Ok

En poursuivant votre navigation sur ce site, vous acceptez l'utilisation de cookies. Ces derniers assurent le bon fonctionnement de nos services. En savoir plus.

vendredi, 16 mars 2018

Le Candide de Voltaire et la résistance à la matrice

voltaireportrait.jpg

Le Candide de Voltaire et la résistance à la matrice

par Nicolas Bonnal

Ex: http://www.dedefensa.org

Un lecteur sympathique me demande bien gentiment comment résister à la matrice. Ma réponse est simple : couper sa télé, retirer l’argent de la banque, cultiver son jardin comme sa famille, faire des enfants, leur éviter l’école, bref se réconcilier avec la réalité de terrain, car elle existera toujours, sauf pour les Baudrillard qui regardent trop la télé.  Le système ne doit pas être combattu ; il est assez grand pour ça, rappelle Philippe Grasset, il bouillonne dans son autodissolution imbécile. Il faut aussi maîtriser son accès au web et ne pas se laisser démoraliser par certains sites antisystèmes qui deviennent pires que le système. Pour le système la manipulation du catastrophisme (achetez de l’or, creusez un trou, et surtout préparez-vous à la guerre…) est excellente et décourage les braves gens ! Dans mes livres sur Tolkien j’ai souvent insisté sur le père de Sam le jardinier qui ignore le grand combat que lui explique mal son fils et cherche à protéger ses patates et ses salades. Car l’important est là.

Le monde change sans changer, et Voltaire nous avait tout dit dans son immortel et scolaire Candide, à l’issue d’un voyage mondialiste bien terrifiant (ceux qui se plaignent feraient bien de relire le conte et le récit de la vieille par exemple).

candide_voltaire_edition_1759.jpgOn écoute ce maître qui, disait Borges, écrit la plus belle prose du monde :

« Pendant cette conversation, la nouvelle s'était répandue qu'on venait d'étrangler à Constantinople deux vizirs du banc et le muphti, et qu'on avait empalé plusieurs de leurs amis. Cette catastrophe faisait partout un grand bruit pendant quelques heures. Pangloss, Candide et Martin, en retournant à la petite métairie, rencontrèrent un bon vieillard qui prenait le frais à sa porte sous un berceau d'orangers. Pangloss, qui était aussi curieux que raisonneur, lui demanda comment se nommait le muphti qu'on venait d'étrangler. »

Réponse de génie dans la simplicité :

 « Je n'en sais rien, répondit le bonhomme, et je n'ai jamais su le nom d'aucun muphti ni d'aucun vizir. J'ignore absolument l'aventure dont vous me parlez ; je présume qu'en général ceux qui se mêlent des affaires publiques périssent quelquefois misérablement, et qu'ils le méritent ; mais je ne m'informe jamais de ce qu'on fait à Constantinople ; je me contente d'y envoyer vendre les fruits du jardin que je cultive. »

L’étendue de la terre importe peu. Ce qui importe c’est le travail familial :

« Vous devez avoir, dit Candide au Turc, une vaste et magnifique terre ? Je n'ai que vingt arpents, répondit le Turc ; je les cultive avec mes enfants ; le travail éloigne de nous trois grands maux : l'ennui, le vice, et le besoin. »

Il faut cultiver son jardin, ajoute Candide dans une phrase finalement peu comprise.

L’information industrielle abêtissante a toujours existé, voyez mon texte sur la rumeur (Fama) chez Ovide et Virgile. La Bruyère traduisant Théophraste, vieux disciple d’Aristote, écrit dans ses caractères :

« De là il se jette sur ce qui se débite au marché, sur la cherté du blé, sur le grand nombre d’étrangers qui sont dans la ville ; il dit qu’au printemps, où commencent les Bacchanales, la mer devient navigable ; qu’un peu de pluie serait utile aux biens de la terre, et ferait espérer une bonne récolte ; qu’il cultivera son champ l’année prochaine, et qu’il le mettra en valeur ; que le siècle est dur, et qu’on a bien de la peine à vivre. »

Le bon chrétien rajoutera à son jardin ces classiques et notre bon Cassien qui nous explique déjà comment résoudre nos problèmes psychologiques en temps de guerre ou de paix.

Bibliographie

Voltaire – Candide

Cassien – Institutions

Bonnal – Les secrets de Cassien (Amazon.fr)

La Bruyère – Caractères

lundi, 22 janvier 2018

The Repercussions of Regicide

executionlouisxvi.jpg

The Repercussions of Regicide

ex: https://madmonarchist.blogspot.com

 Today, once again, we mark the anniversary of the regicide of His Most Christian Majesty King Louis XVI of France. It is not, at this point, necessary to go through all the details of this monstrous crime, as that has been done before (relevant links will be below). However, I thought it might be worthwhile to make brief mention of what the repercussions of this event have been, which are present even to the present day. Obviously, there were immediate consequences in that most of the crowned heads of Europe immediately went to war with the First French Republic simply on principle. Even the British, and King George III felt that King Louis was suffering for having supported the American rebels in their war against him, immediately went to war with the French even though the Kingdom of France had been England's most long-standing enemy. France suffered immediate and terrible consequences for this. Even the United States immediately changed their point of view of the French Revolution when King Louis XVI was killed. Practically every major monarchy in Europe immediately became an enemy and even the Americans were no longer willing to be friends with a regime that would murder an innocent and powerless man.

histoire, france, régicide, louis XVI, 18ème siècle, révolution française, théorie politique, politologie, sciences politiques,


Everyone knows about the Reign of Terror, the massacres, the repression and the long succession of wars that followed this event. However, there were broader and more far-reaching consequences that no one could possibly have foreseen at the time. For one thing, the permanence and sacrosanct nature of the monarchy was destroyed and that is something that is seemingly impossible to recover. This is why, I think, the British monarchy consistently decreased in power since the regicide of King Charles I, even though the monarchy was willingly restored. The French monarchy was restored, more than once, since the regicide of King Louis XVI but, as we know, none of these restorations lasted. The radical elements of French society knew that they had taken down one king and that set a precedent that they could take down others and so they did. It set up a very long-term destabilization of France as a country. The way modern France has become so famous for its strikes and a populace, particularly in Paris, being known for their temper tantrums all goes back to the regicide of King Louis XVI.

We also see today the huge explosion of the non-French population in France so that today about 20% of the population of France is not French. In terms of religion, France has the largest amount of Muslims as a percentage of the population of any country in Europe. It is also worth keeping in mind that the immigrant population has about twice the rate of natural growth as the native French population. For myself, I do not think this state of affairs is unrelated to the regicide and the French Revolution. In the first place, as I have said before, it is a logical next step for people who claim that the bloodline of their rulers does not matter, getting rid of monarchy, to then believe that the bloodline of the population being ruled does not matter either, which is the attitude held by those in power today. Similarly, by the overthrow and regicide of King Louis, the precedent was sent for the people changing their ruler to one more to their liking (or at least so they thought), it then also stands to reason that the rulers of republican France today can decide to change the population of France and replace it with another more to their liking.

Bertolt Brecht supposedly said, of the Communist regime in East Germany, that they might dismiss the current electorate and appoint a new one. He was being sarcastic to make a point but that seems to be something the modern liberal elite of western countries thinks is not only possible but a positively brilliant idea. In the aftermath of the regicide of King Louis XVI, I cannot see it any other way as being directly responsible for the current state of affairs. The downfall of monarchy, in France as elsewhere, set the standard for national authorities being changeable with no direct, personal ties of blood and history with the country and it is simply taking this to its logical conclusion for the rulers of today to believe that their peoples are also just as changeable. The crisis that France finds itself in today is, I firmly believe, a direct result of the regicide of King Louis XVI and the twisted "values" of the French Revolution. The country and the people are still suffering from this horrendous crime.
 
Other similar links:
 

The Root of the Current French Crisis

The Greatness of King Louis XVI

A Tragic Anniversary

Inspiration in a Tragic Anniversary

dimanche, 24 décembre 2017

Johann Gottfried Herder on Music & Nationalism

herderquote.jpg

Johann Gottfried Herder on Music & Nationalism

Johann Gottfried Herder
Song Loves the Masses: Herder on Music and Nationalism [2]
Translated and edited by Philip V. Bohlman

Oakland: University of California Press, 2017

herdersongsbook.jpgJohann Gottfried Herder was an 18th-century German philosopher, theologian, translator, and critic. He wrote on many subjects: political philosophy, philosophy of mind, philosophy of history, metaphysics, linguistics, philology, art, religion, mythology, and music. He influenced several philosophers and his ideas form the basis of the modern disciplines of linguistics and cultural anthropology.

Herder was born in 1744 to humble origins in East Prussia. He studied for two years at the University of Königsberg, where he met Johann Georg Hamann and became a favored pupil of Immanuel Kant. He then became a clergyman and teacher. A few years later he embarked on a journey throughout Europe (see Journal meiner Reise im Jahre 1769). While in Strasbourg in 1770 he met Goethe, whom his works strongly influenced. Herder became a leading figure in the Sturm und Drang literary movement. In 1776 he was made general superintendent of the clergy in Weimar and lived there for the remainder of his life.

It is only within the past two decades that much of Herder’s work has been translated into English. The texts in this book have not appeared before in English translation. This collection is also the first to compile Herder’s writings on music into one volume. It contains nine essays, each prefaced with a brief introduction by the translator. The book also contains an appendix with translations of the lyrics of 24 folk songs included in Herder’s anthology of folk music.

The first section of the book contains Herder’s essays on folk songs. Herder believed that folk music embodied a nation’s Volksgeist, or the innate character of a people as expressed through culture and civilization. In his magnum opus, Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind, he articulates the idea that each people possesses a distinct Volksgeist (he used the phrase “Geist des Volkes”) and national character. He is considered the originator of this concept.

Thus Herder conceived of the nation first and foremost as an organic community bound together by a common culture and heritage. During his lifetime, Germany was divided into hundreds of independently governed territories whose governing elites imitated the customs of the French nobility and frequently feuded, and a century earlier the nation had been ravaged by the Thirty Years War and other religious conflicts. Herder’s notion of the Volksgeist laid the foundations of German nationalism and contributed to the growth of German national consciousness during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Although Herder was influenced by Enlightenment thinking, he rejected the Enlightenment notion that every individual is fundamentally alike and that all people share certain moral values and psychological characteristics by default. He believed that human beings vary greatly depending upon their respective cultural contexts and that furthermore one’s cultural background (language, heritage, customs, physical environment, etc.) indelibly shapes one’s character; this occurs on the level of both the individual and the group. (The implicitly ethnic nature of his idea of the Volksgeist, despite his lack of overt racialism in a biological sense, is evinced particularly by his mention of how climate affects how groups evolve physically and mentally over time.)

This led him both to reject the homogenizing form of cosmopolitanism embraced by many Enlightenment thinkers and to advocate cultural pluralism and oppose imperialism and chauvinism (see This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity). For this reason he is sometimes portrayed as a forerunner of modern multiculturalist progressivism. But Herder’s concept of pluralist nationalism runs counter to the modern promotion of open borders and globalization, which pose a threat to the existence of distinct national cultures and the homogeneity of individual groups. Others have pointed out that the cosmopolitanism espoused by modern Western liberals is ironically a form of “white supremacy” as it assumes that all peoples of the world, from African tribesmen to Mongolian goat-herders, uphold Western values and aspire toward Western civilizational standards.

Herder’s belief that the Volksgeist of a nation was expressed in its ancient poetry and folk music led him to take an interest in reviving ancient folk songs. In the first essay, he argues that folk songs must be collected and anthologized in order to “catch a spark from the spirit of the German fatherland, albeit buried in ash and rubble” and preserve folk songs before they were lost to history. He compiled folk songs into two anthologies: Volkslieder in 1774 and Alte Volkslieder in 1778 and 1779, first published serially as four volumes and later as two larger volumes (a second edition was published posthumously in 1807, titled Stimmen der Völker in ihren Liedern). The anthology contained 194 folk songs from a variety of European countries and was an influential text throughout the nineteenth century. Herder’s translation of the text of the Scottish folk song “Edward, Edward” inspired Brahms’s Ballade, op. 10, no. 1 and Schubert’s “Eine Altschottische Ballade.”

Herder’s conception of folk music encompassed ancient epic poetry as well as traditional folk songs. The epilogue contains a brief excerpt from his Treatise on the Origin of Language, in which he concludes at one point that human language evolved from the primitive capacity for song (a theory that a number of modern studies corroborate). Epic poems were of course originally meant to be sung. Herder writes of Homer: “The greatest singer of the Greeks, Homer, is at the same time the greatest folk poet.” He most admired the Homeric epics, the Norse Edda, the Nibelungenlied, The Poems of Ossian, and the Old Testament.

Therefore this book also includes essays by Herder on epic poems. Most notable of these is one containing fragments from his Briefwechsel über Ossian und die Lieder alter Völker (Correspondence about Ossian and the Songs of Ancient Peoples), published in 1773 in the manifesto Von deutscher Art und Kunst (which also contained his essay on Shakespeare and essays by Goethe and Justus Möser). The manifesto outlines a path toward creating German art, literature, and music reflecting Germany’s national past.

The Poems of Ossian are a cycle of epic poems purportedly collected and translated (from Gaelic to English) by the Scottish poet James Macpherson. The character of Ossian was based on legends surrounding Oisín, a warrior-poet in Irish mythology. While the authenticity of the poems was disputed, the work was lauded by many as a successor to the Homeric epics.

To Herder, the question of whether the poems were authentic was secondary. He was more concerned with the issue of translation and how translating the original Gaelic into English and then into German would refract the original through a different lens. He criticized Michael Denis’s German translation of the poems on the charge that his scholarly imitation of Greek hexameter formalized the verse and tamed its “wild” character, saying that his translation lacked “feeling for sound or singing, no real sense of fresh air from the hills of Caledonia” and did not reflect the spirit of the poems’ source material, which consisted of folk songs sung by the common people.

herderpotraticouleur.jpgHerder believed that “wild” peoples produced literature that was more lively, lyrical, and free. The ancients were constantly forced to confront nature, which imbued their art and poetry with a vitality that modern men lack. He mentions in the essay that he read Ossian while standing on a ship’s deck during a rough storm and writes that “in the midst of such experiences the Old Norse singers and the bards emerge from your reading entirely unlike anything you might experience in a professor’s classroom.” The direct contact with the elements at sea and the imminent possibility of danger and death approximated the circumstances that originally gave rise to epic poetry.

Herder revered the ancients and did not adhere to the idea that history consists of a never-ending upward march of progress with each civilization merely serving as a stepping-stone to a higher one. Nonetheless he was not a primitivist. He believed that humans were distinguished from animals by their potential to cultivate “humanity,” or civilization, and welcomed progress in the arts and sciences. However he saw the idea of universal progress as a falsehood and held that different civilizations evolve at different rates. Thus in order for human perfectability to be achieved, each nation (and each individual within a nation) must fulfill its own destiny and evolve according to its own internal logic, which entails affirming the separateness of different nations.

The Ossian poems inspired Herder to embark on his first collection of folk songs. It was in his essay on Ossian that Herder coined the term Volkslied. He believed that German art should emulate Macpherson’s method of gathering material from folk tradition and using this as a foundation upon which to create something new. He criticized German poets and writers of his day for aping foreign literary conventions rather than drawing from ancient native traditions.

It is perhaps worth noting that Herder’s edition of the Ossian poems contained extensive annotations written by Melchiorre Cesarotti, who had translated the work into Italian. Cesarotti’s notes bore the influence of Giambattista Vico, which in turn may have indirectly influenced Herder. This is notable given that Vico’s work was virtually unknown at the time.

There are certain parallels as well as points of divergence between the two. Both were philosophers of the Enlightenment who were critical of Enlightenment thinking.[1] Both prefigured nineteenth-century historicism: in the words of Robert T. Clark, “it was Vico’s conviction that by examining the available documents on the subject of primitive culture he could discover a ‘metaphysics of history’ which would sweep the ground from under the Cartesian-Protestant position. . . . Vico and Herder did not evaluate the culture of a given age on the basis of their own–the error of the Cartesians–but instead sought for an adequate statement of its essential characteristics as revealed in a careful study of available information.”[2] (Vico reconciled this particularist view with the universality of his cyclical philosophy history by distinguishing between convention and human nature.) Like Herder, Vico believed that myth was central to civilization and saw works of literature and art as artefacts that shed light on the entire cultural organism from which they arose. He associated each age of history (the age of gods, the age of heroes, and the age of man) with different patterns of language: hieroglyphs, signs, and symbols; simile and metaphor; and irony respectively.

Some of the similarities between Vico and Herder are coincidental (e.g., their similar ideas on the origin of language) but it is possible that Herder’s theories of interpretation were indirectly influenced by Vico to some extent.

Herder’s interest in ancient epic poetry also led him to translate The Poem of the Cid (El Cantar del Mio Cid) into German. Excerpts from his translation are included in the book. The original poem is thought to have been written in the twelfth century. The eponymous hero of El Cid was a Castilian nobleman and military leader during the Reconquista. He was known for his skill as a military commander in expanding the territory of Castile and became a Castilian national hero. The poem chronicles the time roughly beginning with his exile from Castile in 1081 and ending shortly before his death in 1099.

Herder sought to create a bridge between past and present by evoking the heroism and nationalism of the original verse in German amid the atmosphere of modern Europe. Bohlman claims that “when nineteenth- and twentieth-century European linguists and historians set out in search of national epics, Herder’s Cid was their inspiration and their model.”

Music remains in the background in Herder’s Der Cid, both in terms of his attention to the sound of the poem (cadence, rhyme, assonance, etc.) and the invocation of music itself throughout, as in this stanza:

Priests and soldiers alike, in full voice,
Sang mass for the Cid,
And trumpets loudly heralded
The holy secret;
Cymbals rang, kettle drums roared,
So that the holy archways
Shook; a renewed courage of heroes
Filled the hearts of all the soldiers,
The three hundred so intrepid,
To enter into struggle against the Moors,
The Moors in Valencia.

This follows a dramatic scene in which El Cid forces King Alfonso VI to take an oath swearing that he was not the one who murdered his brother, the former king. Alfonso was offended by the public challenge to his honor and exiled El Cid from Castile, stripping him of his land and possessions. The “three hundred” refer to the men who remained loyal to him. El Cid and his 300 men went on a number of military campaigns and eventually conquered Valencia.

Herder also translated Handel’s Messiah, which he called “truly a Christian epic in music.” As a theologian and clergyman, Herder saw religion and music as being closely intertwined. Martin Luther (whom Herder strongly admired, though he lamented that Luther did not found a German national church) likewise held that music was “next to theology” and was divine in origin. Two of the essays here discuss sacred music. Herder’s criticism of the Pietists (a contemporary Lutheran movement) gives an idea of his views on sacred music in general: “Pietism has reduced sacred song to chamber song with sweet, feminine melodies, filled with tender sensitivity and rubbish, thus stripping it of all the majesty that commands the heart, and making it a weakling at play.”

The final essay in this book consists of the chapter on music from Herder’s last major work, Kalligone, in which he outlines his philosophy of aesthetics. The chapter is essentially a defence of music as an art form. Here he objects to Kant’s claim in The Critique of Judgment that music ranks below the visual and literary arts on account of the fleeting duration of sounds and the inherently passive nature of aural perception compared to visual perception and argues that these factors in fact render music more capable of creating an individual impression upon the listener from within. He sees music as an art of movement (“arrival and departure, becoming and being“) whose temporality enables it to best capture the fluctuations of human emotion and realize the sublime. On a broader level he argues that Kant’s a priori principles regarding aesthetic judgment led him to erect false barriers between cognition and sensation, between types of consciousness, experience, etc.

Herder repeatedly states that music, art, and poetry all reflect the character of their creators and the nations to which they belong but also remarks that the reverse is true in equal measure. He writes of poets: “A poet is the creator of the people in whose midst he writes: he gives them a world to see and has their souls in his hand in order to guide them into that world” [italics Herder’s]. Thus nations are built by artists and poets, whose works serve as national founding documents.

Notes

1. See Isaiah Berlin’s Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, and Herder.

2. Robert T. Clark, Jr., “Herder, Cesarotti and Vico,” Studies in Philology, vol. 44, no. 4 (October 1947): 647–48.

 

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: https://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/12/johann-gottfried-herder-on-music-and-nationalism/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: https://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/SongLovesTheMasses.jpg

[2] Song Loves the Masses: Herder on Music and Nationalism: https://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520234956

18:11 Publié dans Livre, Livre, Philosophie | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) | Tags : herder, livre, philosophie, nationalisme, 18ème siècle | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

lundi, 04 septembre 2017

Le despotisme éclairé et ses avatars modernes

Friedrich.jpg

Le despotisme éclairé et ses avatars modernes

Bernard Plouvier,

auteur, essayiste

Ex: https://metamag.fr

« Quant à moi, j’aime l’État plus que mon âme », Niccolo Machiavel

Qu’est-ce qui différencie le populisme du despotisme éclairé ? Le but ! Ce n’est pas le bien de la Nation qui est la cible visée par ce dernier système politique, mais la puissance et la grandeur de l’État. Machiavel, théoricien de ce type de gouvernement, pose en principe que le bon « Prince » dirige avec douceur quand il le peut, avec ruse le plus souvent, avec brutalité au besoin, mais toujours avec le souci de l’efficacité.

Les despotes éclairés sont les dévots de la raison d’État, réagissant en idéalistes pragmatiques, qui estiment que la fin justifie et ennoblit les moyens. Tout ce qui est profitable ou simplement utile à l’État devient, ipso facto, licite. Le succès fait disparaître jusqu’au souvenir des crimes qui ont paru nécessaires à l’obtention du résultat. Est beau, juste et noble ce qui a réussi. C’est un peu trop vite confondre l’État et le Bien commun. L’État n’est jamais qu’un moyen… il n’y a pas que les adeptes du despotisme éclairé qui oublient cette notion. C’est, en principe, le bien de la Nation qu’un bon gouvernement doit rechercher : c’est la définition du populisme !

Les despotes éclairés du XVIIIe siècle – Frédéric II de Prusse, Joseph II, antépénultième empereur romain de langue germanique, Pierre le Grand au début du siècle et Catherine II de Russie à la fin, Gustave III de Suède, le marquis de Pombal au Portugal ou Robert Turgot – réalisèrent des expériences politiques fort rationnelles, où un monarque héréditaire (ou un grand ministre agissant en son nom) luttait contre les féodalités nobiliaires, judiciaires et cléricales, en s’appuyant sur la fraction la plus dynamique du peuple aux plans économique et intellectuel, dans le but de moderniser l’État et d’en accroître la puissance et le prestige, voire l’étendue.

L’expression « despote éclairé » n’est pas « une création d’un historien allemand du XIXe siècle », comme l’a écrit un docte universitaire : sa sottise fut immédiatement reprise par ses confrères historiens. En réalité, on la trouve, dès 1758, sous la plume de l’ami de Diderot, Melchior von Grimm, dans sa Correspondance littéraire. On peut en faire remonter la préhistoire au cardinal de Richelieu, même si les historiens, recopiant les Mémoires de Frédéric II, en bornent l’ancienneté au règne personnel de Louis XIV, aidé de grands ministres (Colbert, Louvois et Vauban sont les plus connus) et de quelques littérateurs (‘’Molière’’, Boileau, Racine ou La Fontaine), utiles à la gloire de son règne.

Dans ce système, le monarque (ou son substitut) s’appuie sur des hommes de talent qui ont réussi dans les affaires (manufacturiers, négociants et armateurs, grands administrateurs) ou qui sont des penseurs originaux (les physiocrates français, ou la trinité enluminée : Montesquieu, ‘’Voltaire’’ et Diderot ; ailleurs : les idées de Thomas Hobbes ou les écrits et la personne de Julien Onfroy de La Mettrie). Ces hommes sont moins des conseillers que des incitateurs, remerciés avec plus ou moins de chaleur une fois que le maître a remporté ses premiers succès, dont il ne veut partager la gloire avec personne.

MTheee.jpg

Affirmer que le despote éclairé s’appuie sur la bourgeoisie pour contrer la noblesse et le haut-clergé, c’est faire preuve d’une grande simplicité et d’un défaut de documentation : tous les monarques médiévaux ont utilisé ce moyen pour asseoir leur pouvoir personnel et s’opposer aux grands prédateurs féodaux.

Certains appuis des monarques « éclairés » proviennent de milieu pauvre, de la caste nobiliaire ou du vivier clérical. Denis Diderot est issu du monde de l’artisanat peu aisé, ce qui ne l’empêche pas de conseiller Catherine II ; l’abbé Ferdinando Galiani et de nombreux aristocrates jouent un rôle de premier plan en Suède, en Autriche-Hongrie et surtout en Prusse et en Russie.

Seuls les corps constitués (assemblées du clergé, cour des pairs et parlements) sont repoussés par les monarques réformateurs qui veulent substituer au système des castes privilégiées le service de l’État, comme cela existe, depuis le XVe siècle, à Florence. Une bureaucratie zélée remplace les hiérarques traditionnels, avantageusement et à meilleur coût. Partout, le mot d’ordre est de laïciser, de moderniser, d’améliorer dans toutes les activités : de l’agriculture au commerce et aux manufactures, aussi bien qu’en matière de justice, d’enseignement, d’hygiène publique et d’art militaire ou de navigation. On casse les féodalités et l’on accroît les rentrées fiscales. Quand c’est possible, on étend le territoire.

Le despotisme éclairé, c’est le culte de l’État, fort, centralisé, uniformisé, ce qui fâche les membres des minorités ethniques qui veulent à toute force « cultiver leur différence », et de l’État moderne appliquant les innovations techniques et ne repoussant pas les idées originales, ce qui irrite les réactionnaires.

Le budget est maintenu en équilibre et la balance commerciale idéalement excédentaire, du moins en période de paix : c’est un héritage de Colbert. C’est ce qu’Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, à mi-chemin du populisme et du despotisme éclairé au XXe siècle, appelait « une politique nationale de vérité » : on règle ses dépenses sur ses recettes et l’on gère l’État comme le bon père de famille le fait (en principe) de son ménage.

Le menu peuple est protégé des fantaisies des nobles et du clergé ; il devient leur égal face à la Justice. En revanche, il doit travailler, obéir aux lois et fournir toujours plus de soldats et de marins, sans grogner et, si possible, avec enthousiasme. La promotion sociale des sujets de haute valeur est assurée : ce type de gouvernement modère les conséquences de la stratification en castes (liées à la naissance) et en classes (liées au niveau de fortune). De ce fait, il instaure un certain degré de méritocratie, du moins pour ceux qui se plient en tous points au monarque, qui, pour se vouloir éclairé par les lumières de la raison, n’en reste pas moins un despote ombrageux.

À la suite de Frédéric II, on a voulu définir ce régime par une phrase lapidaire autant que cynique : « Tout pour le peuple. Rien par le peuple » . En réalité, la formulation exacte serait : « Tout pour l’État », le monarque en étant le premier serviteur. Hegel l’a fort bien compris et en a formulé la théorie, vers 1820. Dans le despotisme éclairé, le souverain veut améliorer les conditions de vie de la majorité de ses sujets (idéalement, celle de tous), mais il ne demande nullement l’avis du peuple. Tout au plus, les élites sont-elles consultées de loin en loin, lorsque le monarque le décide.

L’armée n’intervient que pour défendre les frontières ou agrandir le territoire national : le despotisme éclairé n’a rien d’une dictature militaire. Même en Prusse, il existe beaucoup plus de fonctionnaires civils que d’officiers.

catherine-deux.png

Dans tous les cas, le despote éclairé ne sort pas du cadre de l’autocratie, de la monarchie absolue. De ce fait, les réformes sont abolies dès qu’au despote succède un monarque faible ou traditionaliste, trop facilement ému par les jérémiades ou les menaces des grands féodaux et du haut-clergé. Le système ne persiste qu’en Prusse où, un demi-siècle après le Grand Frédéric, Bismarck puis Guillaume II transcendent son œuvre, en y adjoignant une protection sociale, bien avant l’action des réformistes du XXe siècle.

Le despotisme éclairé est le système qui définit le moins mal le régime franquiste en Espagne qui ne fut pas une dictature populiste, ainsi que les expériences de divers Caudillos latino-américains durant le XIXe siècle : Simon Bolivar dans la fugace Grande-Colombie, Gabriel Moreno en Équateur, José Rodriguez de Francia au Paraguay, ou, au Mexique, le moderniste Porfirio Diaz, renversé par le  richissime socialiste, vaniteux et entouré d’affairistes, Francisco Madero, associé puis ennemi de l’Indien raciste et sanguinaire Emiliano Zapata, qui rêvait d’en revenir au mode de vie paléolithique des chasseurs-cueilleurs, ou encore la tentative du dernier Shah d’Iran, Mohamed Reza, de moderniser son État et sa Nation, en dépit d’un fanatisme religieux omniprésent et qui réussit à balayer son régime.

Les dictateurs « fous de dieu », qui furent si nombreux de la Renaissance du Quattrocento (Jérôme Savonarole) et de l’époque moderne (Oliver Cromwell) jusqu’à nos jours (les chefs d’État de l’islam djihadiste), sont généralement opposés aux riches (de nos jours : les grands capitalistes, les maîtres des multinationales) et aux rhéteurs ineptes des parlements, mais ce sont avant tout des théocrates hallucinés, des fanatiques, nullement des populistes, encore moins des individus éclairés par la raison. S’il leur arrive, inconstamment, d’entreprendre des réformes pour améliorer le sort de leur Nation, ce n’est nullement leur but premier : le triomphe de leur conception de la divinité est l’unique préoccupation de ces fous furieux.


Les sanglantes dictatures marxistes furent très exactement calquées sur ce fanatisme d’essence religieuse. L’athéisme ne fait rien à l’affaire : les sanguinaires disciples de Marx et d’Engels, qui avaient tous leur herméneutique très personnelle des textes sacrés de l’utopie communiste, voulaient imposer le bonheur sur Terre aux élus, issus d’un prolétariat de fantaisie. L’absurde berquinade dégénéra en génocides, en dantesques règlements de comptes avec les « ennemis de classes » et les « déviationnistes ». L’Inquisition catholique, même celle du marrane Thomas de Torquemada, ne fut qu’amusette comparée aux ignominies des polices politiques de chaque « paradis des travailleurs ».

carlos--620x349.jpg

À l’opposé, les « révolutionnaires-conservateurs » européens, au XXe siècle, ne furent que des réactionnaires, issus de milieux fortunés et/ou cultivés, haïssant la plèbe et reprochant au IIIe Reich sa politique de fusion des castes et des classes sociales : Oswald Spengler, Ernst Jünger, Ernst von Salomon, Julius Evola n’en finissent pas d’agonir « l’aspect prolétarien et même vulgaire du national-socialisme ». Ce sont des nostalgiques du despotisme éclairé, mais nullement des héritiers de la centralisation jacobine de 1792-94 : le jacobinisme fut, avant tout, la mise en tutelle de l’Éxécutif par le Législatif.

Le mot d’ordre de ces esthètes a été donné en 1934 par l’un des précieux ridicules de la vie littéraire française, Abel Bonnard : « Une nation peut se sauver sans le secours d’un grand homme, elle ne le peut sans l’existence d’une élite ». C’est une phrase entièrement démentie par l’histoire des civilisations : tout système stable voit fleurir une élite d’administrateurs et de cadres, de scientifiques et de techniciens… quant à savoir si les purs intellectuels sont utiles à la Nation et à l’État, c’est une question qui risque de tourner à l’aporie.

Au XXe siècle, en Ibérie et en Amérique latine, les néo-despotes militaires se sont limités à réprimer l’agit-prop communiste, de façon d’ailleurs bien moins brutale que n’auraient agi les marxistes s’ils étaient parvenus au Pouvoir. L’opinion publique, désinformée par des clowns fort malhonnêtes, en a fait des monstres, alors qu’ils sont parvenus à éviter à leurs peuples la barbarie marxiste.

D’une manière générale, les nombreuses dictatures antimarxistes du XXe siècle, dites contre-révolutionnaires, comme celle des colonels grecs durant les années 1970 ou celle des généraux et amiraux chiliens ayant mis fin au règne chaotique de Salvator Allende, elles n’eurent rien de « populiste », étant l’expression de l’omnipotence du capitalisme cosmopolite, soutenu par la puissance de l’US-Army et de la ribambelle des services secrets des USA.

jeudi, 18 mai 2017

L’œuvre politique de l’Impératrice Marie-Thérèse

Maria_Theresia.jpg

Helge Morgengrauen :

L’œuvre politique de l’Impératrice Marie-Thérèse

Dans le prologue de sa trilogie dramatique de 1798, Schiller aborde la figure du chef de guerre Wallenstein : son souvenir dans l’histoire, écrit-il, mêle dans la confusion faveurs et haines. Marie Thérèse Walburga Amalia Christina, future reine de Bohème et de Hongrie, épouse de l’Empereur romain-germanique François I Etienne de Lorraine, on ne peut certes pas en dire autant : l’Impératrice, au contraire de Wallenstein, demeure respectée en sa mémoire, jusqu’à nos jours, au-delà de toutes les frontières. Bien sûr, nous vivons à l’ère du « politiquement correct », idéologie néfaste qui tente de tout dénigrer. Quelques tenants de cette nuisance idéologique cherchent à dénoncer cette bonne Impératrice en la décrétant « antisémite ». Leurs efforts semblent vains. Ils se condamnent ainsi à la marginalité.

La grandeur des empereurs de la lignée des Habsbourg, en Autriche comme à l’étranger, est incontestée. Marie Thérèse fut la plus forte des femmes de ce lignage. L’Autriche lui doit beaucoup. Elle est un exemple lumineux d’épouse et de mère, de monarque avisée et clairvoyante, de réformatrice radicale, de stratège pertinente et de bienfaitrice miséricordieuse.

Fille de l’Empereur Charles VI, elle est née le 13 mai 1717 à Vienne. Dans un premier temps, il n’était pas question de faire de cette jeune femme le successeur de son père l’Empereur. Mais quand il s’est avéré que le monarque n’allait jamais avoir de descendant masculin, celui-ci concocta la fameuse « Pragmatique Sanction », stipulant qu’une femme pouvait assurer la succession dynastique. L’objectif de Charles VI était de conserver l’unité des territoires autrichiens. Jusqu’à sa mort le 20 octobre 1740, il lutta pour que toutes les puissances européennes reconnaissent la « Pragmatique Sanction ». Son successeur sur le trône romain-germanique fut toutefois, non un Habsbourg comme ce fut le cas pendant des siècles, mais un Wittelsbach bavarois, Charles Albert de Bavière, couronné Empereur sous le nom de Charles VII.

Le 25 juin 1741, Marie Thérèse est couronnée Reine de Hongrie à Pressburg/Bratislava, alors capitale du Royaume de Hongrie. Le 12 mai 1743, elle devient, à Prague, la Reine de Bohème. Après la mort de Charles VII, François Etienne de Lorraine, que Marie Thérèse avait épousé en février 1736, devient l’Empereur du Saint-Empire romain-germanique. Vingt ans plus tard, François-Etienne meurt à son tour et son fils aîné, Joseph, devient son successeur. Marie Thérèse ne fut jamais formellement « Impératrice » mais se faisait appeler ainsi.

Son grand ennemi à l’intérieur du Saint-Empire fut le Roi de Prusse Frédéric II le Grand, qui dut bien reconnaître, lorsqu’elle mourut, « qu’elle avait fait honneur à son trône et à son sexe ». Frédéric n’avait fait que guerroyer contre elle mais ne l’avait jamais considérée comme son ennemie. Avec la montée en puissance de la Prusse, le déclin du Saint-Empire, déjà fortement affaibli en tant qu’institution, ne fit que s’accroître. Quarante-deux ans après la fin de la Guerre de Sept Ans, le vieil Empire cessa d’exister. Cent-trois ans plus tard, l’Autriche, meurtrie par sa défaite face à la Prusse à Königgrätz/Sadowa, se retira du « Deutscher Bund ». Quatre-vingt ans plus tard, la Prusse, à son tour, n’existait plus et l’Autriche était réduite à la taille d’un micro-Etat.

großmacht.jpg

L’œuvre bénéfique de Marie Thérèse se constate encore 237 ans après sa mort. En 1774, elle introduisit l’école obligatoire, dont l’Autriche est encore très fière. La Prusse, il faut le dire, l’avait précédée en ce domaine, en introduisant l’obligation scolaire dès 1717, année de la naissance de Marie Thérèse. La Prusse avait aboli la torture dès 1740, la première année de la régence de Marie Thérèse. La Saxe l’abolit à son tour en 1760. L’Autriche suivit en 1776 et les Etats Pontificaux seulement en 1815 !

Les réformes thérésiennes ont touché tous les domaines de la vie. Elles ne concernent donc pas seulement les institutions politiques et militaires mais aussi la jurisprudence, l’enseignement, l’économie et la religion. Toutes ces mutations profondes et durables s’appellent les « réformes thérésiennes ». Par une politique dynastique et matrimoniale avisée, Marie Thérèse et son ministre d’Etat von Kaunitz ont réussi à améliorer la position de l’Autriche sur l’échiquier européen.

Cette stratégie ne tenait toutefois pas compte des désirs et des besoins des princesses autrichiennes. Une seule d’entre elles a pu librement se choisir un époux : Marie Christine a pu convoler avec son élu, le Duc Albert de Saxe-Teschen dont on se rappelle à Vienne parce qu’il y a fondé l’Albertina, une collection célèbre dans le monde entier, conservée dans un bâtiment sis derrière l’Opéra de la capitale autrichienne.

La très belle archiduchesse Marie Elisabeth devait épouser le Roi de France Louis XV mais elle fut frappée de la variole et rien ne résulta de ce projet. La plus jeune des princesses, Marie-Antoinette devint l’épouse du futur Roi de France Louis XVI. Princesse héritière puis Reine, Marie-Antoinette ne cessa de correspondre avec sa mère qui, toujours, lui recommandait de ne pas oublier sa germanité. La pauvre Reine de France fut victime de la guillotine après le déclenchement de la révolution française.

Quand Marie Thérèse quitta la vie en novembre 1780, elle avait maintenu son héritage. Elle n’avait perdu que la Silésie et quelques territoires en Haute-Italie. Elle laissa à ses héritiers un Etat que l’on peut qualifier de très moderne pour son époque. Deux de ses fils lui succédèrent, Joseph II et Léopold II.

Helge Morgengrauen.

(article paru dans « zur Zeit », Vienne, n°19/2017, http://www.zurzeit.at ).

parmereg.jpg

mardi, 22 novembre 2016

The Willful State: Frederick the Great’s Report on the Prussian Government

koenigs-image--1-_620x349.jpg

The Willful State:
Frederick the Great’s Report on the Prussian Government

Frederick the Great
Exposé du gouvernement prussien, des principes sur lesquels il roule, avec quelques réflexions politiques
Berlin, 1775-1776[1]

One often encounters people who have no faith in the ability of a small nation to achieve anything worthwhile.[2] Yet one typically does not have the luxury of choice. One may prefer to live in a large and populous country, but in any event one must work with what one has. Furthermore, the fact is that small states can and do on occasion “punch above their weight” and influence the course of history. In support of the proposition that even the smallest of nations may dare to be ambitious, I give a most powerful example: the Kingdom of Prussia.

When Frederick the Great became King of Prussia in 1740, the population of his little north German realm numbered just over 2 million. This was only a third of the population of England, itself a rather small European power, and Frederick’s kingdom did not enjoy the protection of the English Channel. Instead, Prussia, also a land poor in natural resources, was protected solely by the sheer will to organize all of the little state’s means into the mightiest army possible. The gambles were huge, the threats of annihilation repeated, and yet through it all it was little Prussia which emerged victorious. The machine set in march by Frederick would double in population by the conquest of Silesia and, a century later, give Bismarck the means to unite Germany. Thus Prussia shows how a small principality may become the greatest of European powers.

The lessons of Prussian statecraft are then of interest to all those, be they leaders or citizens of nations great or small, who wish to maximize their potential and fulfill a great project. How did Frederick go about building his machine of state? For this, we may turn to the Great King himself, for he was a prolific writer. In the mid-1770s, he wrote a private[3] Report on the Prussian Government, on the Principles on Which It Operates, with some Political Reflections. The work, as so often with Frederick, is of an admirable lucidity and clarity. I will provide an overview of the Report, which apparently has never been published in English, with translations of substantial passages.

Frederick argues for a unitary state in which all the branches of government — military, budgetary, and political (under which he refers exclusively to foreign policy) — are continuously and harmoniously united towards a single goal. For the insecure Prussia of Frederick’s day, that goal was above all maintaining military preparedness and a “rainy day” war-chest, to both guarantee the state’s security and seize any opportunities which, by the vagaries of international politics, should present themselves. Frederick asserts that the prince must himself give the example, carefully monitoring all aspects of his state’s operation and personally ensuring that military merit is honored above money. Good manners must be promoted among the citizens and fertility encouraged. Above all else, one must concentrate one’s efforts on the decisive, always being thrifty, and not wasting resources on side-projects. The bolder one’s enterprises, the greater the gains.

In short, Frederick’s politics are the antithesis to the bourgeois democratic politics we have grown used to in the postwar era. We may say that Western politics have tended to be ever-more obsessed with materialist consumerism (welfare, purchasing power, GDP; and our politicians even fail to deliver these) and egalitarian “victimocracy” (symbolic and real spoils for various aggrieved groups, namely ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and women). In both cases, individual and sectional interests are taken as the frame reference, rather than the interests of the community as a whole.

Finances: Frugality Above All

Frederick begins: “To have a general idea of this government, one must examine in detail all the government’s branches, and then combine them together.” These branches are finances, the military, and international politics/foreign policy (la politique). Frederick emphasizes the importance of the budget, which he often compares to an organism’s nervous system: “I begin by finances, which are like the sinews of the human body, which move all its members.”[4] Public finances should be as frugal as possible — notwithstanding spending on fortifications, infrastructure, and foreign allies — so as to amass a healthy war chest that can last until peace is signed:

But one must remark that if we draw all extraordinary war funds from the treasury, we will last only four campaigns, which means that by necessity we must take hold of Saxony, husband as best we can the treasury, which must specifically only serve to fill the emptiness of a few provinces invaded by the enemy. Here is the bottom of things, which shows that one must practice the greatest economy to have the last écu[5] in one’s pocket when one negotiates the peace.

Frederick argues that a substantial budget surplus is justified economically because Prussia had a trade surplus twice as big, thus money was still entering circulation. This surplus, which the Germans do seem to have a knack for, was achieved thanks to “establishing many manufactures, and especially with the help of Silesia.” Frederick emphasizes the need for the most careful monitoring of public spending:

This is why one must not lose sight of manufactures: though them, this [trade] balance can still be increased in our current possession by some hundred thousand écus. But what is important above all is to conserve the good order now established in  the management of public monies and the supervision of all funds; without which the people pays very much, and the sovereign is robbed.

Thanks to this thriftiness, Prussia then had enough money for four military campaigns and enough grain for three, including purchases from Poland.

zvezda-zv-8071.jpg

Military Affairs: Preparedness & Honor

Frederick’s description of the Prussian army is worth quoting at length. He argues that Prussia’s militarization is warranted given her insecure geographical position and the size of her neighbors. The Prussian army, based (after the conquest of Silesia) on a country of 5.2 million, was by no means large compared to its neighbors’. Frederick argues then that Prussia can only distinguish itself militarily by the quality and discipline of its armed forces. The commander-in-chief himself must personally give the example “or all is lost” for the little country. Frederick strikes a decidedly conservative note, arguing that if aristocratic officers should prove inadequate, “the recourse to commoners, would be the first step towards the decline and fall of the army.”

ON THE ARMY.

The situation of this State forces us to maintain many troops, because our neighbors are Austria, Russia, France, and Sweden. The war-footing numbers 220,000 men, including the freelance battalions and the increase in cavalry. From this number we will be able to campaign with 180,000 men; but as soon as we need to form three armies, it becomes quite apparent that we do not have many compared to our neighbors. I believe that discipline must remain on the current footing, as must the introduced reforms, unless war should change, because then one may only side with adapting to circumstances and to change with them; but to equal our enemies or surpass them, one needs to do so through order and discipline, to encourage the officers to distinguish themselves, so that a noble emulation encourages them to surpass the enemies they must fight. If the sovereign does not himself get involved in military affairs, if he does not give the example, all is lost.  If one prefers courtly layabouts [fainéants de cour] to military affairs, one will see that the entire world will prefer this laziness to the strenuous military profession, and then, instead of our officers being nobles, we will have to have recourse to the commoners, which would be the first step towards the decline [décadence] and fall of the army. We have at present only 70 citizens[6] per company; one must not stray from this principle, to husband the country, which, by the increase in population, will be able to furnish resources or recruits, if war makes it necessary. [. . .] Our population counts 5.2 million souls, of which about 90,000 are soldiers. This proportion may suffice; but one must not take from the cantons more than 840 for each infantry regime and 400 for each cavalry regiment.

Foreign Policy: The Art of Opportunity

Frederick then writes very cogently on foreign policy under the heading “la politique.” This puts the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s later famous definition of war as “politics by other means” in an interesting light. In his great work On War, Clausewitz rarely discusses politics as such but it seems he too supported the primacy of foreign policy, which is to say the overriding interest of the state in maintaining its own existence and security, over liberal and constitutional niceties.[7]

Frederick clearly takes an unsentimental view of international relations as Realpolitik. The goal is to ensure the security of the state, this means: maintaining good relations and an alliance with the state which can most harm us (in this case Russia), acquiring more secure borders (by annexing Saxony as buffer territory), and being ever-prepared so as to be able to seize any unforeseeable opportunities to reach this goal. Frederick emphasizes caution however: given the country’s limited resources, war should only be pursued if there really is something to be gained, one must not overextend one’s territory to indefensible borders, and one must use both modesty and secrecy so as to not disturb the European balance of power and stoke general hostility against us.

ON POLITICS.

One of the first principles of politics is to work to ally oneself with whoever among our neighbors can inflict the most dangerous blows against the State. It is for this reason that we are allied with Russia, because it frees up our back concerning Prussia,[8] and that, as long as this relationship lasts, we have need not fear that Sweden will dare to attack in Pomerania. The times may change, the strangeness of circumstances can force us to take other commitments; but never will we find with the other powers the equivalent of the advantages that we find with Russia. The French troops are worth nothing, and the French are used to only feebly assisting their allies; and the English, made for paying subsidies, sacrifice their allies, to the peace, to favor their own interests. I do not speak of the house of Austria, with which it seems almost impossible to form solid bonds. Concerning the political prospects for acquisitions appropriate for this monarchy, the States of Saxony are indisputably those which would be the most appropriate, by rounding it off and forming a barrier by the mountains which separate Saxony from Bohemia, and which would need to be fortified. It is difficult to foresee how this acquisition could be made. The surest way would be to conquer Bohemia and Moravia, and to trade them for Saxony; or finally that this could be done by other trades either of the Rhenish possessions, adding Juliers or Berg, or by any other way that it could be done. This acquisition is an indispensable necessity to give this State the consistency which it lacks. For, as soon as we are at war, the enemy can march directly to Berlin without finding the slightest opposition on his path. I do not speak of the rights of succession in the countries of Ansbach, Juliers and Berg, and Mecklenburg, because these claims are known, and one must wait for their occurrence. As the State is not rich, we must take care above all else to not get involved in wars where there is nothing to be gained, because one exhausts oneself at a pure loss, and when a good opportunity follows, one cannot take advantage of it. All distant acquisitions are a burden to a State. A village on the border is worth more than a principality 60 leagues away. It is a necessary measure to hide as much as possible these schemes of ambition, and, if one can, to awaken Europe’s envy against other powers, on the occasion of which one strikes one’s blow. This can occur, and the house of Austria, whose ambition goes unconcealed, will needlessly attract the envy and jealousy of the great powers. Secrecy is an essential virtue for politics as well as for the art of war.

preugren.jpgI note with amusement the statements on the value of a Russian alliance, the unreliability of a French guarantee, and the perfidy of Albion, observations which would no doubt resonate with many people in later centuries. Plus ça change !

Frederick briefly discusses the laws of Prussia [2], describing them as “fairly wisely made.” He argues no changes are needed, but that there must be regular visits to provincial courts to punish malfeasance, for “the parties and the lawyers work to elude the best laws.” There should also be a review every 20 years to ensure the appeals process is not abused through endless trials. These highlight the importance of regular, mindful care for one’s state.

Harmonious Government: All Branches Working Towards the Same Goal

Frederick then discusses finances, the military, and foreign policy as forming the coherent whole which government must be. He again emphasizes frugality and a healthy war chest:

TOTAL COMBINATION OF GOVERNMENT.

Given that the country is poor, and has no resources, it is necessary for the sovereign to always have a well-furnished treasury, to bear at least a few campaigns. The only resources which he may find when in need consist of a loan of 5 million from the Landschaft [a bank decreed by Frederick, made up of noblemen, allowing the state to borrow from the Prussian population itself], and about 4 million which he can draw from the bank; but that is all.

Public money, he says, should be spent on various development projects such as fortresses, manufactures, or infrastructure “in order to make the State’s constitution more solid.”

The sovereign should then be frugal with his subjects’ blood and treasure. He must himself be an example of rectitude, or his subjects will also become wasteful. Frederick emphasizes “especially” the maintenance of good morals, which can only be achieved if the power of money is kept in check. It must be impossible for the wealthy to buy honors, as they do in France. Frederick advocates a muscular natalism in order to produce more citizens and soldiers:

These reasons which I have just put forward demand that this country’s sovereign be economical and a man who maintains the greatest order in his affairs. An equally valid reason as the first is also joined to this: it is that if he gives the example of profusion, his subjects, who are poor, want to imitate him, and ruin themselves. One must especially, to support manners, grant distinctions only according to merit and not for wealth; the poor observation of this principle in France has meant the loss of the of the nation’s manners, which previously knew only the path of honor to achieve glory, and which believes at present that it is enough to be rich to be honored. As the wars are an abyss into which men fall, one must be watchful that this country be as peopled as possible, from which another good results, which is that the countryside is better cultivated and landowners are more at ease.

Frederick denies the utility of a navy for Prussia for this would divide the country’s efforts and anyway be too small to be useful. Instead, one should concentrate one’s efforts on the most decisive point, in this case the army:

I do not believe that this country should ever be persuaded to form a military navy. Here are the reasons. There are in Europe great navies, that is: that of England, those of France, Spain, Denmark, and Russia. Never will we be able to equal them; hence, with a few ships, remaining always inferior to other nations, the expense would be useless. Add to this that, to maintain a fleet, the money this would cost would force us to reform land troops, that this country is not sufficiently populated to provide recruits for the army and sailors for ships, and finally, that sea battles are rarely decisive; from which I conclude that it is better to have the best army in Europe than the worst fleet of the maritime powers.

Frederick argues that policy must “look as far as possible into the future” but recognizes that unforeseen circumstances will always arise. As such, the best one can do is to be ever-prepared so as to be able seize opportunities. Interestingly, Frederick explicitly affirms that political control of the military must serve to radicalize warfare to ensure it reaches the given political objectives: “War itself must be conducted according the principles of policy, to inflict the bloodiest blows against one’s enemies.” Frederick advises great enterprises, even if these are risky, rather than wars for trifling objectives:

Policy must look ahead as far as possible into the future, and judge the circumstances of Europe, either to form alliances, or to counter the projects of one’s enemies. One must not believe that it can bring about events; but when these present themselves, it must seize them to take advantage of them. That is why finances must be in order. It is for this reason that there must be money saved up, so that the government is ready to act as soon as political reasons indicate the moment. War itself must be conducted according the principles of policy, to inflict the bloodiest blows against one’s enemies. It was according to these principles which prince Eugene [of Savoy, an Austrian commander] acted, he who made his name immortal by the march and the battle of Turin, by those of Höchstädt and of Belgrade. These great projects of the campaign do not all succeed; but when they are vast, there always results more advantages than by these little projects where one limits oneself to taking an insignificant town [bicoque] on the border. That is how the count [Maurice] of Saxony [a French commander] gave battle at Rocoux to be able to execute the winter according to his designs upon Brussels, which succeeded.

potsdam___sanssouci_park_by_pingallery-d3jniwc.jpg

Frederick stresses that foreign policy, the military, and finances must form a coherent whole. Otherwise they are vain, as in the case of France, which as Europe’s largest state could afford to become flabby and incoherent. Prussia did not have this luxury:

It is obvious that, from all that I have just said, that policy, the military, and finances are branches which are so tightly bound together, that they cannot be separated. One must carry them out all at once, and by their combination, subject to the rules of good policy, there results the greatest advantages for the State. In France, there is a king which manages each branch separately. There is a minister who presides, either to finances, to war, or to foreign affairs. But the rallying point is lacking, and these branches, not being united, diverge, and the ministers are each busy with only the details of their department, without anyone uniting the objects of their works to one fixed goal. If such a thing happened in this State [Prussia], it would be lost, because great monarchies go on despite excesses, and support themselves by their weight and intrinsic strength, and small States are soon crushed, if all in them is not strength, life, and vigor.

Frederick concludes that a small and insecure state such as Prussia must always be led by a watchful prince:

Here are a few reflections and my ideas on the government of this country, which, so long as it has not taken greater consistency and better borders, must be governed by princes who are always watchful, ears pricked, to observe their neighbors, ready to defend themselves from one day to the next against the pernicious projects of their enemies.

Conclusion: Power Through Will

Of Western and European states today, only the United States of America and the Russian Federation can be considered even moderately “big” in a world in which we face China’s 1.4 billion, India’s 1.25 billion, and, in another mode, the endless hordes to come from an Africa destined to number 4 billion this century [3]. Furthermore, any European-American successor states to the current U.S.A. would likely number around 150 million. Frederick’s directives for maximizing the power of small states through a frugal and martial government, characterized above all by a coherent will, are then very relevant to us.

The Greater-European World is made up dozens of states, each of which could, under enlightened leadership, work for the salvation of our people. The means of a small state are necessarily modest, but let no one say that these are worthless. Prussia began as a small enterprise. But by the luck of having successive great princes, a political “germ-cell” was set, the logic of which was favorable to growth, turning a minor principality of 2 million into a Great Power of 5 million, and then into a united Germany preeminent on the Continent, fit for two awesome bids for regional hegemony. The example of Prussia shows that even small states, when armed with unity and will, can maximize their potential and, when the stars align, achieve wonders.

Times have changed since Frederick’s. We, for the most part, do not need to be so mindful of military security as in the past. Indeed, most traditional military conflict in our lands, lamentably, is intra-European. The inherent disorganization of the Third World, nuclear weapons, and the diminishing returns of military occupation in the modern era mean that there are few conventional threats to our security.[9] The Western World’s conflicts with the Arab nations and Iran, far from being motivated by any objective threat, have largely been driven by a hypertrophied U.S. imperial establishment and the malignant influence of the Israel Lobby in Washington, Paris, and London.

The lasting insight in Frederick’s Report on the Prussian Government is the need for a coherent will: that government should concentrate on its core objectives, that all the parts work in harmony towards this, and that this will be steadily maintained over long periods of time. Frederick’s goal was the security of his state and as such he concentrated on maximizing military capability and constant readiness to seize opportunities in foreign affairs. Other objectives may be served by these Prussian virtues: constant mindfulness, frugality, preparation, and setting a good example for one’s citizens.

Frederick emphasizes the importance in politics of encouraging family-formation and maintaining public morals, which is to say shape the society’s culture and enforce positive social norms. The nation and state must always be carefully tended and cultivated that it, like a beautiful garden, flourish and grow. Frederick organized his entire state towards the goal of military power and security. Perhaps we may say that the endangered Europeans of today must similarly organize their states, through systematic cultural and population policies, towards the goals of demographic expansion, genetic quality, and unity within our great family of nations.[10]

Frederick’s patriotic prince can in our times seem something like an alien. We have grown used to living under governments dedicated above all to individual caprice and equalizing victimhood. Our people are so demoralized, that even the idea that our men and women, especially the best of them, should be expected and encouraged to raise children is considered outright offensive by many. Frederick shows that such misguided doctrines do not favor national survival.

We are used to “politics” meaning only more-or-less loathed electoral politicians winning office by publicly pandering to the mob’s bottomless appetite for consumerism and narrow sectional interests, while actually serving the hostile, increasingly post-national oligarchs who finance their political parties and control the mass media who significantly determine the public’s views. In Frederick’s time, the manners of the average citizen, be he farmer, burgher, or nobleman, were shaped by a hard life, national laws, and a state church. Today, besides the general slouching, the education of the youth and the public at large is largely left, to a small, rootless international clique of media moguls, from Carlos Slim and Rupert Murdoch, to Michael Eisner and Sumner Redstone. These men pursue their particular financial, ideological, and ethnic[11] interests, rather than the national good.

This is not inevitable however. At the close of Frederick’s reign, the population of Prussia approached that of England. The two countries in later centuries would enjoy similar rises in power and greatness. We may say that Anglo-America is what northern Europeans tend to when plenty and security afford them the luxury of individualism and egalitarianism. Prussia is what northern Europeans tend to when, driven by poverty and insecurity, they must organize and discipline themselves for collective survival.

The European peoples, we can be sure, will suffer ever-greater insecurity in the twenty-first century with their dwindling numbers, their swamping by outsiders, and the rise of Asia and Africa. By this suffering, the Europeans will painfully learn from their mistakes and again know the true worth of things. No doubt, we will see Prussians again.

In the twentieth century, the logic of Europe and the West had been one of unbridled expansion. From a small appendage of Eurasia, we burst forth and conquered virtually the entire world and multiplied to become a full third of humanity. Since the catastrophic world wars, we have been in headlong decline and, in time, we will have lost not merely our empires, but of even our own historic homelands. By the end of this century, we will be lucky if we still make up 5 percent of humanity. We must arrest our decline by again establishing, by will and discipline, a logic of expansion. The Great King provides us with a powerful model. Every European nation must play its part.

grabfriedrich.jpg

Notes

1. As published in Johann Preuss (ed.), Œuvres de Frédéric le Grand, vol. 9 (Berlin: Royal Printer, 1848), pp. 209-220. http://friedrich.uni-trier.de/fr/oeuvres/9/toc/ [4]

2. On the recurring controversy concerning pan-European political unity: small states’ options and character are indeed, in the long run, generally determined by great geopolitical blocs and empires, often of a continental scale. But it is also true that the larger a polity is, the less cohesive and coherent it is likely to be. In any event, one must not confuse a unitary empire with a multinational and multistatal confederation. The latter is necessarily prone to impotence as each state holds a de facto and/or de jure veto and each nation does not identify with the others. Thus, while a confederation may be a useful thing, one should not place exaggerated hopes in it or believe this to be the critical locus of politics. The locus of politics is always the actual sovereign. Nationalists understand the sovereign acting through the nation-state: mass consciousness is only possible in a nation; political action is only possible through a state. An empire may or may not be preferable, but that is always founded through the spilling of blood, never by signing bits of paper. For the truth of this, I refer you to the history of the United States before Lincoln, of the German Confederation before Bismarck, of Austria-Hungary, Canada, Belgium, and the European Union. (Concerning the latter two, there has been amusing example of paralysis in recent weeks as the region of Wallonia vetoed Belgian support for a major EU-Canada free trade agreement. Thus multinational polities were leading to vetocracy squared: Wallonia vetoed Belgian policy, and Belgium vetoed EU policy. And yet, one finds a thousand people in the political mainstream who believe the permanently paralyzed EU is the primary answer to European decline . . .) I also, again, direct you the very eloquent statements explicating these matters in De Gaulle’s press conferences and Hitler’s Second Book.

3. That it remained unpublished during his lifetime is unsurprising: Frederick is quite frank about his coveting neighboring Saxony in order have more buffer territory on his vulnerable southern border. These ambitions, he insisted, had to remain secret. Prussia would indeed acquire 40 percent of Saxon territory at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

4. I would add that finance and culture can be said to make up an entire society’s nervous system. Which begs the question: what does it mean if a particular ethnic group, especially if hostile to the majority, achieves commanding influence in a society’s financial and cultural institutions?

In the natural world, the principles and examples [5] from which should always be in our minds, we observe Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a parasitic fungus able to hijack ants’ behavioural system and turn them into “zombie ants.” According to Wikipedia:

Infected hosts leave their canopy nests and foraging trails for the forest floor, an area with a temperature and humidity suitable for fungal growth; they then use their mandibles to affix themselves to a major vein on the underside of a leaf, where the host remains until its eventual death. The process leading to mortality takes 4–10 days, and includes a reproductive stage where fruiting bodies grow from the ant’s head, rupturing to release the fungus’s spores.

5. An archaic French currency.

6. Presumably Bürger commoners.

7. Certainly, the continued existence of the state is a sine qua non of any policy, but we as nationalists add: policy must serve the existence and cultivation of the people from which the state derives.

8. Here, presumably meaning East Prussia.

9. There are exceptions obviously: Turkey is a threat to Greece, and China is a threat to Russia. In the long term, we also cannot exclude that Africa’s population explosion will eventually form a conventional military threat. What would a Spain reduced to aged pensioners and effeminate young leftists be able to oppose to a few million Islamized Africans led marching upon Europe, no doubt led, according to their genius, by a new Mahdi or General Butt Naked?

10. I observe one prominent “willful state” active in the world today: the Jewish State of Israel. This country has, through a cross-partisan political and social consensus, consistently pursued policies of demographic and territorial expansion, for the security and power of the Jewish people and against the Arabs, whom Orthodox Jewish consider subhuman. The Jews’ fertility rate in Israel is now well above replacement with over 3 children per woman, equaling the Arab rate. (Admittedly, Israel has been successful in large part thanks to its diplomatic and financial parasitism upon the Western nations, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of European lives, through the tireless efforts of the Jewish-Zionist lobby. But that is but another example successful ethnic activism, only possible because we are not yet ethnically organized.)

11. Unless, obviously, they are of European descent . . .

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/11/the-willful-state/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Frederick_the_Great_after_the_Battle_of_Kolin_by_Julius_Schrader.jpg

[2] the laws of Prussia: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/11/enlightened-patriarchy-part-1/

[3] an Africa destined to number 4 billion this century: http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-worlds-most-important-graph/

[4] http://friedrich.uni-trier.de/fr/oeuvres/9/toc/: http://friedrich.uni-trier.de/fr/oeuvres/9/toc/

[5] examples: https://twitter.com/natureisscary

 

mercredi, 16 novembre 2016

Enlightened Patriarchy: Frederick the Great’s Principles of Lawmaking

friedII.jpg

Enlightened Patriarchy:
Frederick the Great’s Principles of Lawmaking

Perhaps the most impressive Western tradition of statecraft, at least in the modern era, is that of Prussia. To be sure, the liberal-democratic tradition launched by the United States [2] and France is formidable, and it is not without reason that it today dominates our world. But the greatness of America and France also relied upon a prosaic factor: sheer demographic and geographic size. Little Prussia in contrast accomplished feats with absolutely miserable resources, raising herself up among the great powers and founding the German nation-state through sheer force of will. The Prussian “authoritarian” tradition, with its emphasis on hierarchy, community, and martial prowess, is then a useful counterpoise to the liberal-democratic one we take for granted today. Clausewitz and Carl Schmitt must be read beside Jefferson and Tocqueville [3].[1]

The most illustrious of all the Prussian leaders was Frederick the Great, a great political reformer and military commander who also cultivated a reputation as a philosophical thinker in his own right. Given how rare it is for generals and politicians to be particularly thoughtful, Frederick the Great merits all the more to be read by young Westerners in search of their heritage and a usable past. I propose then a reading of some of Frederick’s quite substantial philosophical and political writings.

Frederick’s Dissertation on the Reasons to Establish or Abrogate the Laws (Dissertation sur les raisons d’établir ou d’abroger les lois, 1750),[2] written after a decade in power and the hard-won conquest of Silesia, is admirably clear in its writing (how rare that can be!) and showcases wide reading and historical knowledge.[3] Many of Frederick’s themes and arguments retain all their relevance to this day. As this text is apparently unavailable in English, I will quote from it at length.[4] Unusually for a reigning monarch, the Dissertation was made public, thus showcasing the King’s philosophical credentials and stirring European debate.

Frederick’s ideal government is an enlightened patriarchy. He notes that “family fathers” have played an enormous role in the law throughout history, both as lawmakers and as legal masters of the household. For Frederick, the laws should serve to shape custom and enforce public morals, with the interests of the community overriding those of individuals. But this firm law must also be humane, rational, and moderate. Social conventions should be examined in this light and reformed accordingly. Frederick concludes with two proposals as examples: ending the stigma of bastardy, so as to prevent illegal abortions leading to the deaths of both the bastard and the mother, and a pan-European ban on dueling, the latter often causing the death of valuable citizens.

To know how to make laws, the practical Frederick advises looking to history:

Those who wish to acquire an exact knowledge of the way in which the laws must be established and abrogated can only look to history. We see there that all nations have had particular laws, that these laws were established in succession, and that much time has always been necessary for men to reach something reasonable. We see there that the legislators whose laws have lasted the longest are those who had as their goal public happiness, and who best knew the genius of the people whose government they regulated.

According to Frederick then, history teaches that the establishment of good laws requires patience, public-spiritedness, and harmony with “the genius of people,” which might also be termed national character. He shows an optimistic faith in reason typical of the Enlightenment: men require time to establish good laws, but once reached, these tend to spread. This accounts for the pervasiveness of Roman law: “These laws were found to be so admirable that after the destruction of the empire, they were embraced by the most civilized peoples.”

Frederick’s Dissertation provides a fairly impressive overview of the evolution of law from ancient to modern times, covering the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and the modern European nations of England, France, and Germany. He draws from numerous sources, mentioned in the marginalia, including Herodotus, Plutarch, Livy, Cicero, and Tacitus for the Ancients and mainly French historians for the Moderns.

Frederick’s highlights from this enormous historical period are obviously not disinterested. These generally could be considered to subtly reinforce his position as an “enlightened despot” and pragmatic reformer, particularly interested in maximizing his state’s population and military power. In addition to “family fathers,” Frederick places a strong emphasis on the role of religion and, interestingly, usury in the development of the law. Hence, he expounds at length on Sparta, a martial state to which Prussia was often compared:

Lycurgus, king of Lacedaemon, used the laws of Minos, to which he added some of Osiris, which he collected himself from a journey he made to Egypt; he banished gold from his republic, silver, all sorts of currencies, and superfluous arts; he equally shared lands among the citizens.

This legislator, who intended to shape warriors, did not want any sort of passion to weaken their courage; he allowed for this effect the community of wives among citizens, which peopled the State, without excessively attaching private citizens to the sweet and tender bonds of marriage; all children were raised at public expense. When parents could prove that their children were born unhealthy, they were permitted to kill them. Lycurgus believed that a man who was not fit to bear arms did not deserve to live.

He ruled that helots, a kind of slave, would cultivate the soils, and that the Spartans would only busy themselves with the exercises which would render them fit for war.

The youth of both sexes wrestled; they exercised completely naked, in the public square.

Meals were regulated, where, without distinction of orders, all citizens ate together.

It was forbidden for foreigners to stay in Sparta, in order that their manners not corrupt those which Lycurgus had introduced.

Incompetent thieves were punished. Lycurgus had the intention of forming a military republic, and he succeeded in this.

The Aim of Law: Good Manners & Public Safety

csm_6.5_2dd71daf9a.jpgFrederick asserts that laws should aim to promote “[g]ood manners and public safety.” He is enormously concerned with civil peace, saying French chancellor Michel de l’Hôpital’s efforts to increase tolerance and defuse tensions between Catholics and Protestants during the Wars of Religion “worked for the salvation of the fatherland.” Laws may deal with politics (government), manners (criminal), and civil matters (contracts, usury).

But for Frederick, laws do not merely have the negative goal of suppressing crime and instability, but also the positive one of fostering good habits. Hence the laws have an important cultural role. He says “the laws are dikes against the overflowing of vices, they must be made respected by the terror of punishments,” but these should also be humane. The sovereign must protect “the majesty of the laws” if these are to have any power. This sometimes fails. Under the Roman Republic “the corruption of manners . . . led to an endless multiplication of laws.”

Frederick cites the Twelve Tablets of Rome, inspired by Solon, among the best laws. These had notably legalized posthumous recognition of children (in cases where the alleged father died before birth) and divorce: “These laws, so equitable and so just, restrained citizens’ freedom only in the cases when their abuse of it could harm the calm of families and the security of the republic.”

However, in judging what individual liberty and equal rights citizens should have, Frederick stresses that the aim must always be the public good. Many restrictions on individual liberty and “discriminations” against classes of citizens might at first appear unjust, but are actually upon closer examination found to serve the general welfare. Frederick cites the German practice of primogeniture in this regard:

Whoever has bothered to the examine the laws with a philosophical spirit will have no doubt found many which at first appear contrary to natural equity, and which however are not so. I content myself with citing the right of primogeniture. It seems that nothing is more just than sharing the paternal estate equally among all children. However experience proves that the most powerful inheritances, subdivided into many parts, reduce over time opulent families to indigence; which has led father preferring to disinherit their younger sons rather than prepare their house for a guaranteed decadence. And for the same reason, laws which appear bothersome and harsh with certain individuals are not less wise, so long as they tend towards the entire society’s advantage; this is a whole to which the enlightened legislator will constantly sacrifice the parts.

Thus, discrimination against younger sons, while unfair for those concerned, can be justified by its strengthening of the continuity of the family house. (I note in passing that some have claimed this passing on of the family household to  the first-born son has contributed to the strong German tradition of family businesses [the famous Mittelstand]. Conversely, the French Revolution’s egalitarian law of succession overrode the father’s will and equally distributed property among sons. Thus, estates tended to disintegrate over time. Some have blamed the catastrophic and lasting decline of French fertility in this period on these provisions, bourgeois fathers seeking to reduce their offspring to maintain their households.)

Certainly the American and French revolutionaries would not deny the importance of the general welfare, but Frederick is more explicit: the public good must come before the individual interest and narrow “rights.” In this he echoes the wisdom of classical philosophy, as when the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius [4] wrote: “What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee. [. . .] What causes no harm to the city causes no harm to the citizen.”

koenigueberall.jpg

Patriarchy: A Realistic Ideal

Frederick ascribes an enormous role to the père de famille, the family father, both in the historical foundation of law and in establishing good laws in the present. He begins his historical account as follows:

It seems probably that family fathers were the first legislators: the need to establish order in their houses no doubt forced them to make domestic laws. Since these first times, and when men began to assemble in cities, the laws of these particular jurisdictions were found to be inadequate for a more numerous society. [. . .]

Disorders accrued in the cities, news vices were born, and the family fathers, as those with the greatest interest in repressing them, agreed, for their security, to oppose this excess.

Towards his conclusion, Frederick presents patriarchy as one of the best forms of government given humanity’s imperfect nature. He describes first a utopia in which government and laws would perfectly regulate society like clockwork:

A body of perfect laws would be the masterpiece of the human spirit concerning the government’s policy: one would observe there a unity of plan and rules so exact and proportioned, that a State driven by these laws would resemble a watch, whose springs have been made for one same goal; one would find there a deep knowledge of the human heart and the genius of the nation; punishments would be tempered, so that by maintained good manners, they would be neither light nor harsh, clear and precise rulings would never lead to legal dispute; they would consist in an exquisite choice of all that has been best in civil laws, and in an ingenious and simple application of these laws to the customs of the nation; all would be foreseen, all would be combined, and nothing would be subject to inconveniences: but perfect things do not pertain to humanity.

Human beings being imperfect, Frederick instead offers patriarchy as a realistic regime. Under patriarchy, the government’s public-spiritedness is ensured by a sense of family belonging with the people:

The peoples would have reason to be satisfied, if legislators placed themselves in their regard in the same mental dispositions of these family fathers who gave the first laws: they loved their children; the maxims they prescribed had as their goal only the happiness of their family.

This perspective largely resonates with evolutionary psychology’s later view that feelings of kinship enable in-group altruism and more generally on the centrality of family to human psychology.

Frederick highlights numerous examples throughout history of the importance of the father in law: parricide was so unthinkable to Solon he made no mention of it in his laws, while the Romans made the mere intention of parricide punishable by death. This did not mean the father should enjoy unlimited and tyrannical power, as Frederick also writes:

No laws revolts humanity more than this right of life and death which fathers had over their children in Sparta and Rome. In Greece, a father who was too poor to provide for the needs of a too numerous family allowed the children born in excess to perish; in Sparta and in Rome, if a child came to the world poorly-shaped, this sufficiently authorized the father to deprive him of his life.

It is worth observing here that if the killing of infants was not for an arbitrary individual purpose such as a father’s whim, but rather for a rational public purpose such as eugenics, this might meet Frederick’s criteria for a good law, given his previous assertion of the public good over individual interest.

friedrich_II.jpgFrederick’s advocacy of paternal authority is all the more poignant and significant in that his own father, Frederick-William, also known as the Soldier King, had been a harsh one. Frederick-William had often beaten his son and executed before Frederick’s eyes his youthful best friend (and possible lover), Hans von Katte, for “desertion.”

Undivided Authority

Frederick’s apology of patriarchy fits well with his arguing that the sovereign should enjoy undivided authority, free notably from parliaments. This enabled the sovereign to concentrate without distraction and formulate coherent laws. Coming from an absolute monarch, this was obviously not a disinterested position, but it was forcefully argued. Frederick stresses the dissensions between Senate and people which paralyzed the Roman Republic and writes on England:

Although England has many wise laws, it is perhaps the European country where they are the least in effect. Rapin Thoyras [a French historian] remarks very well that, by a vice of government, the power of the King is constantly in opposition to that of the parliament; that they watch each other, either to conserve their authority, or to extend it; which distracts the King and the representatives of the nation from the care which they should expend to maintain justice; and this turbulent and stormy government changes endlessly its laws by acts of parliament, according to whether the current situation and events forces it to do so; hence It follows that England is in the situation of more requiring reform of its jurisprudence than any other kingdom.

Frederick argues elsewhere that laws made by different authors will tend to contradict one another and be incoherent:

When in a State the laws are not assembled in a single body, there must be some who contradict each other; as they are the work of different legislators who did not work on the same scheme, they will lack unity which is so essential and so necessary to all important things.

He notes that nothing is worse for respect for the laws than internal contradiction. Hence, Frederick strongly argues for legal codification, citing many examples, from Justinian through Alfred the Great to Louis IX of France.

Frederick then explicitly rejects any doctrine of divided sovereignty or separation between executive and legislative authority, as found in the writings of Montesquieu and the American Constitution. No doubt Frederick would not be surprised by the often vague and incoherent texts produced by divided sovereigns, whether the representatives in the U.S. Congress or the heads of state of European summits.

To be continued . . .

Notes

1. My ability to directly study the Prussian tradition is sharply limited by my very inadequate knowledge of German. Concerning Frederick however, I am fortunate, as a blessed son of France, for the Great King wrote overwhelmingly in French. This reflected the preeminence of French as the European lingua franca of the eighteenth century and Frederick’s enthusiastic embrace of the French Enlightenment, or les Lumières. On other benefits of learning the French language, see Guillaume Durocher, “Learning French with Jean-Marie Le Pen,” [5] Counter-Currents, November 20, 2015.

2. As published in Johann Preuss, Œuvres de Frédéric le Grand, vol. 9 (Berlin: Royal Printer, 1848). http://friedrich.uni-trier.de/fr/oeuvres/9/toc/ [6]

3. Montesquieu is a possible but uncertain influence. Frederick makes clear in a letter that he had read Montesquieu’s Considerations on the Greatness and Decadence of the Romans. However, there is no mention of the French writer’s more famous Spirit of the Laws, which were published around the same time as the Dissertation’s writing.  There is confirmation that Frederick read the Spirit of the Laws afterwards. Anne Baillot and Brunhilde Wehinger note a number of parallels: on the law as representing the progressive development of human reason (Montesquieu: “The law, in general, is human reason.”), on the need to adapt law to “national genius” and circumstances, on a gentle approach to abortion, and in supporting the ban of torture. Anne Baillot and Brunilde Wehinger, “Frédéric II, Roi-philosophe et législateur,” HAL.archive-ouvertes.fr (2013). https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00788671/document [7]

4. Frederick’s works appears to be largely unavailable online in English. French and German versions of his complete works are available in scanned and text formats from the University of Trier. However, these are only available page-by-page rather than by chapter or book, which make referencing somewhat obnoxious.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/11/enlightened-patriarchy-part-1/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Friedrich_ii_campenhausen.jpg

[2] the United States: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/07/the-eternal-anglo-1/

[3] Tocqueville: http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2016/07/tocquevilles-patriotic-republic-nationalist-themes-in-democracy-in-america-part-1/

[4] Marcus Aurelius: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/09/the-prayers-of-marcus-aurelius/

[5] “Learning French with Jean-Marie Le Pen,”: http://www.counter-currents.com/2015/11/learning-french-with-jean-marie-le-pen/

[6] http://friedrich.uni-trier.de/fr/oeuvres/9/toc/: http://friedrich.uni-trier.de/fr/oeuvres/9/toc/

[7] https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00788671/document: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00788671/document

Enlightened Patriarchy:
Frederick the Great’s Principles of Lawmaking

Part 2

Moderation & Humaneness

Fried2-post.jpgThe sovereign has authority but, as with the father, this must be deserved. Frederick notes dispassionately that Publicola, one of the founders of the Roman Republic, had legalized tyrannicide. The laws must be fair and appropriate to the nation concerned, otherwise they will be soon be abolished and the people will revolt:

The legislators who establish laws in monarchies are typically themselves sovereign: if their laws are gentle and equitable, they will maintain themselves by their own accord, all individuals find their advantage in them; if they are harsh and tyrannical, they will soon be abolished, because they need to be maintained by violence, and the tyrant is alone against an entire people who only the desire to eliminate them.

Frederick argues that excessively harsh laws anyway cannot last. Draco, the first lawmaker of Athens, saw his notoriously tough legislation soon abrogated by Solon’s.

Frederick argues:  “Natural equity wishes that there be proportion between crime and punishment.” Punishment should take circumstances into account for “[t]here is an infinity between the destiny of a rich man and of an impoverished one.” Frederick claims that for a poor thief to steal a rich man’s gold watch was no great crime.

Frederick proposes a middle way between laxness and severity. He notes that the Ancient Egyptians did not punish thieves — the victims were legally allowed to rebuy their lost property from the thieves — a measure which was “the means of making thieves out of all Egyptians.”

In contrast, “[t]he French laws are of a terrible rigor,” for these prescribed the execution of domestic thieves so as to prevent the spread of their “seed.” Frederick claimed Prussia, by not executing nonviolent domestic thieves, had found the right balance:  “Prussian jurisprudence has found a temperament between the laxity of Egypt’s and the severity of France’s.” At the same time, he affirms harshness for the most evil crimes “so that the punishment is always in step with the crime.”

These considerations on humaneness were also linked to the abolition of torture. Frederick expresses revulsion for the practice of trial by ordeal in England and of “la question” (the seeking of confessions under torture) in France. Frederick banned torture in Prussia on his third day on the throne. He did so on the grounds that tolerance to pain was not necessarily correlated with virtue and that citizens should not be forced to incriminate themselves. This ban “caused a sensation in Europe” and put Prussia “at the vanguard of modernity.”[1]

With perhaps excessive rhetorical flourish, Frederick claimed to be taking “the side of humanity against a custom shameful to all Christians and civilized peoples, and, I dare to add, a custom as cruel as it is useless. [. . .] It would be better to forgive twenty guilty people than to sacrifice an innocent. [. . .] The question in Prussia was abolished eight years ago [. . .] we are certain to not confuse the innocent and the guilty, and justice is delivered no less.”

Other examples of humaneness are Frederick’s abolition of the Hurenstafe (the “Whores’ Punishment” instituted by his father, meaning execution by tying the woman in a bag and drowning her in a river) and a ban on hiding unwanted pregnancies and killing unwanted infants.

Frederick provides quite a long narration on the development of the laws and rights of Englishmen, including the Magna Carta, habeas corpus, and trial by jury: “the nation still conserves this privilege.”

Usury & Inequality

Frederick ascribes considerable importance to economic inequality and to the evil of usury in the history of the laws. He writes: “nothing makes more odious differences of condition than the tyranny which the rich exert with impunity over the miserable.” To this end, Frederick put limits on the ability to appeal, for prior to this those of means could appeal decisions in Prussia’s various courts almost endlessly.

Fried2-Karte.jpg

Frederick identifies usury, with the related self-reinforcing accumulation of wealth by an oligarchy, as a major cause of revolution throughout history, accounting for much social unrest in Athens and Rome. He even calls striking the right balance between lenders and debtors “the philosopher’s stone of jurisprudence”:

The laws concerning debtors are indisputably those which require the most circumspection and prudence on the part of those who publish them. If these laws favor creditors, debtors’ conditions become too difficult; an unfortunate accident can forever ruin their fortune. If, on the contrary, this law is to advantageous to them, it alters public confidence, by denying contracts which are founded on good faith.

This happy medium which, while upholding the validity of contracts, does not oppress insolvent debtors, seems to me to be the philosopher’s stone of jurisprudence.

It seems to me that wealth has a tendency to self-accumulate in a self-reinforcing fashion, as Marx famously analyzed. This is especially when these wealthy elites, which are typically cognitive/clannish cliques, capture the state. Then, the correction may only be achieved by a social revolution, whether enlightened or egalitarian.

National Genius

Though laws are fashioned by universal reason, they must be tailored to local circumstances, namely a nation’s geographical, political, and cultural character. Frederick stresses on several occasions that the laws must respect the “national genius” of the governed, what we might call national character:

We observe again, by examining the conduct of wise legislators, that the laws must be adapted to the kind of government and to the genius of the nation which must receive them; that the best legislators have had as their goal public felicity; and that in general all laws which are most in line with natural equity, with a few exceptions, are the best.

As Lycurgus found an ambitious people, he gave them laws more suited to making warriors than citizens; and if he banished gold from his republic, it was because interest is of all vices that most opposed to glory.

Solon himself said that he did not give the Athenians the most perfect laws, but the best laws they were capable of receiving.

Frederick then does not advocate a naïve universalism sometimes associated with the Enlightenment, but adaptation to national character. Solon’s laws differed from Lycurgus’ also in accordance with their maritime position, propitious for commerce.

Friedrich_II_in_der_Schlacht_bei_Zorndorf_Copy_after_Carl_Röchling.jpg

Conversely, Frederick asserts: “The laws indeed must accord with the genius of nations, or one must not hope for them to last.” To ignore national character is to build laws upon weak foundations, leading to their dissolution. Frederick cites the early Romans as an example of a democratic people, who hence rejected regimes dominated by the king or the propertied classes.

Frederick also argues that laws should be harsher for less civil nations, which are often less developed ones: “It finally seems to me that, among nations who have barely emerged from barbarism, the legislators must be severe; that, among civilized peoples, whose manners are gentle, one needs human legislators.”

This adaptation of laws to local political and cultural character naturally suits sovereigns such as Frederick, who can thus justify their independent particular choices while respecting those of others, contrasting with the ideology of intolerant world-empires, who claim universal jurisdiction.

Against Bad Laws & Lawyering

Frederick makes a number of general comments on avoiding bad laws. The laws must not be vague, for this leads to insincere, hair-splitting legal debate (“la chicane”) and judges must then “have recourse to the intention of the legislator.” Frederick argues that “The skillful legislator does not overload the public with superfluous laws.” An excess of laws leads to confusion and contradiction: “Few wise laws make the people happy.”[2] Laws should be replaced when these are “contrary to public happiness and natural equity, when they are enounced in vague and obscure terms, and finally when they imply contradiction.”

Frederick repeatedly attacks the use of rhetoric by lawyers, including Cicero, seeking to emotionally manipulate judges rather than stick to fact and logic. Frederick expresses considerable pride that his grand chancellor, Samuel von Cocceji, had legally banned rhetoric (I leave aside whether this measure was effective):

Prussia has followed this Greek custom, and if the dangerous refinements of eloquence are banned from pleas, this is thanks to the grand chancellor, whose integrity, understanding, and indefatigable activity would have done justice to the Greek and Roman republics, in the times when these were the most fecund in great men.

Questioning Convention: The Case of Aborted Bastards

Quite in keeping with a tradition of philosophy founded by Socrates, Frederick urges the questioning of convention in the formulation of the laws. Custom should be examined in the light of reason and reformed according to the public good. He notes that bad civil laws are often kept by a kind of inertia “to not shock the prejudices of the nation” and “purely because of their antiquity.”

Frederick did not however advocate an indiscriminate contempt for convention. On the contrary, he advises caution for men are “in the majority, animals of custom” therefore “it could be dangerous to touch them [customs],” for this may lead to more confusion than good. Frederick then advises a pragmatic and reasonable approach to tradition.

A large number of the historical events cited by Frederick seem to refer to this sort of approach, particularly with regard to warfare and natalism. The martial Spartans allowed men and women to train and wrestle together naked. Solon allowed women to remarry if their husbands were impotent. The Romans, at various times, passed laws subsidizing having of three children, recognizing posthumous children (when the father died before birth), and legalizing divorce.

Fried2-verw.jpg

There is also a hint of Frederick’s contempt for Christian dogma as when he recounts of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome:

He wanted the kings to have a sovereign authority in matters of justice and religion; he had no belief in fables ascribed to the gods; that we have for them holy and religious sentiments, attributing nothing dishonest to their blessed natures.

This too is quite in line with Plato’s Socrates, so eager to revise or suppress inherited myths and poems when these show the gods in an impious and irrational light. Frederick adds that Romulus considered the very walls of Rome to be “sacred,” the violation of which was the pretext for killing his brother Remus. This may be taken as a metaphor for the security of the city being a supreme religious imperative, overriding even the closest family ties.

Frederick provides a practical example of questioning convention with the case of the illegality of abortion, which was often punished by death. He considers this practice as barbaric as the Spartan and Roman fathers’ right to kill their children. In fact, Frederick does not argue for the legalization of abortion, but rather the elimination of the most common cause of abortion, which is the stigma of bastardy:

Is there not something quite harsh in the way which we punish abortions? God forbid that I would excuse the dreadful action of these Medeas who, cruel to themselves and to the voice of blood, suffocate the future race, if I dare to express myself so, without letting it see the day! But let the reader strip himself of all prejudices of custom, and let him deign to lend some attention to the reflections which I will present him.

Do not the laws attach a degree of infamy to secret childbirths? A girl born with a too gentle temperament, deceived by the promises of a scoundrel, does she not find herself, in consequence of her credulity, in the situation of having to choose between the loss of her honor and that of the unfortunate fruit which she has conceived? Is it not the fault of the laws to put her in such a violent situation? And does not the severity of judges deprive the State of two subjects at once, the runt who has perished, and the mother, who could abundantly repair the loss by a legitimate propagation? One responds to this that there are homes for orphan children. I know they save an infinity of bastards; but would it not be better to cut the evil by its roots, and conserve so many poor creatures who miserably perish, by abolishing the blemishes attached to consequence of an imprudent and flighty love?

Frederick then wished to prevent the abortion of bastards and the execution of their mothers, that manners be gentler and his state more populous.

Towards European Law?: The Case of Duels

Frederick’s second example of questioning convention is the practice of duels. Here, he notes that laws against dueling are often ineffective because of the contrary social stigma of those who reject them. A nobleman rejecting a duel is considered unmanly while a soldier may well lose employment by his loss of reputation. Thus, monarchs as powerful as Louis XIV of France and Frederick-William (Frederick’s father, also known as the Soldier King), had failed to eliminate the practice, as “duels changed their name.”

Frederick advises as the only solution the punishing of duelers following a mutual agreement among European countries to not grant asylum to the guilty:

If all the princes of Europe do not assemble in a congress, and do not agree among themselves to attach dishonor to those who, despite their rulings, attempt to slaughter each other in single combat, if, I say, they do not agree to refuse all asylum to this kind of killer, and to punish severely those who insult their peers, either in speech, or in writing, or by ways of deed, there will be no end to duels.

Let me not be accused of having inherited the visions of the abbot [Charles-Irénée Castel] de Saint-Pierre [a French writer who had imagined a world without war]: I see nothing impossible in individuals submitting their quarrels to the decision of judges, just as they submit the disagreements which decide their fortunes; and by what reason would princes not assemble in a congress for the good of humanity, after having held so many on subjects of lesser importance? I return to this, and I dare to assure that this is the only way to abolish in Europe this inappropriate point of honor, which has cost the lives of so many honest people whose fatherlands could have expected great services from.

Here again, Frederick wishes to save lives which could serve the nation. The assembly of European princes to establish common norms is an interesting prefiguring of the later bourgeois states’ exponential practice of negotiating European norms in various treaties. We cannot say that Frederick is advocating “European law” per se because he does not suggest the establishment of a purported suprastatal enforcer (e.g., a court).

Frederick reflects typical Enlightenment optimism:

To imagine that men are all demons, and to rail against them with cruelty, is the vision of ferocious misanthrope; to suppose that men are all angels, and to give up the reigns to them, is the dream of an imbecilic Capuchin monk; to believe that they are neither all good nor all bad, to reward good actions beyond their worth, to punish bad actions less than what they deserve, to have indulgence for their weaknesses and humanity for all, that is how a reasonable man must act.

Conclusion

As expressed in the Dissertation, Frederick the Great’s thoughts on lawmaking are striking for their modernity. One can certainly identify signs prefiguring our current troubles. His public circumspection and private contempt for organized religion is no doubt a forerunner a certain agnosticism culminating in nihilism. Frederick’s pleas for a humane approach, while understandable in those still-brutal days (try reading about premodern crime and punishment without flinching), can be taken to a demagogic excess.

However, Frederick is careful to always make his argument with reference to the public good: humaneness and innovation are interesting to explore, but if these clash with the general welfare, the latter must always prevail. Our time is one of individualism and egalitarianism, a time when laws are largely judged by whether they grant free caprice and “equal rights” to individuals. Frederick in contrast provides powerful arguments in favor of laws established by paternal authority for the well-being of the community as a whole and for the promotion of good socio-cultural norms.

Frederick furthermore argues forcefully for a pragmatic and rational approach to lawmaking. One should not be impious or contemptuous of custom for its own sake, but one should be willing to rationally examine and reform custom in light of the public good. Outside of utopias, Frederick saw enlightened patriarchy as perhaps the best possible form of government. The great philosopher Schopenhauer [2] would later concur with this assessment, seeing an autocratic and benevolent “national father” as the form of rule most suited to an imperfect mankind.

Frederick was opposed to a crude universalism and cognizant of the need to adapt legislation to national characteristics. At the same time, he saw himself as participating in a genuinely pan-European intellectual culture and on occasion advocated for joint solutions among the princes of Europe. Frederick the Great’s principles of lawmaking then retain all their relevance for European patriots today.

Friedrich-II-preussen-grabplatte.jpg

Notes

1. Baillot and Wehinger, “Frédéric II, Roi-philosophe et législateur,” 13.

2. Frederick seems to have failed to implement the legal simplification he advocated. His Codex Fridericiani, which was worked upon during this period and sought to simplify Prussia’s plethora of laws stemming from innumerable traditions and jurisdictions,  was apparently enormous and unwieldy. Frederick writes that in Germany: “there is no circle, no principality, no matter how small, which does not have a different customary law; and these rights, through the length of time, have acquired force of law.”

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/11/enlightened-patriarchy-part-2/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/FrederickBerlinCrop.jpg

[2] great philosopher Schopenhauer: http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/03/schopenhauers-critique-of-democracy/

[3] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Laws.png

mardi, 07 juin 2016

Montesquieu van twaalf kanten belicht

Montesquieu_1.jpg

Boekrecensie

Door Paul Muys

Ex: http://www.doorbraak.be

Montesquieu van twaalf kanten belicht

Andreas Kinneging, Paul De Hert, Maarten Colette (red.)

Een vaak geciteerde denker waar toch veel misverstanden over bestaan

De wakkerste geesten onder u kennen baron de Montesquieu wel een beetje: de scheiding der machten, indertijd op school het obligate fragment uit de Lettres Persanes (Comment peut-on être Persan?) maar daar houdt het meestal bij op. Nu is er dit stevig gedocumenteerde werk waarin deze filosoof, voorloper van de Verlichting en grondlegger van de sociologie, vanuit diverse invalshoeken wordt bekeken.

Montesquieu_web.jpgHet onderwerp scheiding der machten is actueler dan ooit, nu dat kostbare beginsel weer moet worden verdedigd tegen de her en der dreigende sharia. In zijn hoofdwerk, De l’Esprit des Lois (Over de geest van de wetten) staat het bewuste principe centraal, net zoals dat van de checks and balances (zoiets als controles en waarborgen). Veelal getypeerd als een liberaal geeft Montesquieu in De l’Esprit aan dat hij na rijp beraad kiest voor een gematigde regering, gematigd door middel van de scheiding van de wetgevende, uitvoerende en rechterlijke macht. Liefst dan nog een regering waarin de adel een belangrijke rol vervult. Die machtenscheiding en de checks and balances liggen aan de basis van de Amerikaanse constitutie en die van een pak andere democratische landen, zonder die adel dan.

Ook al is Montesquieu zelf edelman, dat hij zo’n belangrijke rol toekent aan deze stand kan verbazen. Nog verbazender is het voor de leek dat hij een bewonderaar is van de staatsvorm zoals het middeleeuwse Frankrijk die kende. Dat heeft alles te maken met de evolutie die de monarchie onder de Franse koningen doormaakt: van een gematigd koningschap, getemperd door de tussenmacht van de adel, evolueert zij naar absolutisme en zelfs despotisme. Het is een impliciete kritiek op Lodewijk XIV (L’état, c’est moi).

Macht en tegenmacht. Machtsdeling voorkomt machtsmisbruik. Montesquieu is geen Verlichtingsdenker, hij is niet per se tegen de monarchie, noch tegen de republiek overigens, al vreest hij dat die laatste minder doelmatig zal zijn dan in de Romeinse oudheid. Evenmin heeft hij bezwaar tegen de standen, op voorwaarde dat ook zij gecontroleerd worden door een tegenmacht. Precies omdat het Engeland van na de Glorious Revolution dit in de praktijk brengt, geeft Montesquieu het als voorbeeld. Het tweekamerstelsel (Hoger en Lagerhuis), waarbij elke kamer een sociaal verschillende samenstelling heeft, verhindert dat de adel zich kan bevoordelen. ‘Essentieel is’, zo betoogt co-auteur Lukas van den Berge, ‘dat de dragers van de drie machten geen van alle een primaat opeisen. In plaats daarvan dienen zij zich elk afzonderlijk te voegen naar een onderling evenwicht waaraan zij zich niet kunnen onttrekken zonder de politieke vrijheid om zeep te helpen.’

Vrijheid is voor Montesquieu niet zozeer de mogelijkheid tot politieke participatie of zelfbestuur – wat wij in de 21ste eeuw voetstoots aannemen – ze zit veeleer in de bescherming van de privésfeer. Annelien de Dijn betoogt: ‘Vrijheid is niet de macht van het volk, maar de innerlijke vrede die ontstaat uit het besef dat men veiligheid geniet.’ Dit kan onder vele verschillende regeringsvormen, op voorwaarde dat machtsmisbruik geen kans krijgt. Overheden hebben zich niet te bemoeien met zaken die mensen als persoon treffen, en niet als burger. Wanneer zij de dominante gewoonten en overtuigingen krenken, voelen mensen zich aangetast in hun vrijheid en ervaren dit als tirannie, zo schrijft Montesquieu in zijn commentaar op de mislukte poging van tsaar Peter de Grote om mannen bij wet te verbieden hun baard te laten groeien. Hij beveelt de tsaar andere methoden aan om zijn doel te bereiken. Paul De Hert: ‘Montesquieu pleit niet voor het recht om een baard te dragen. Zijn sociologische methode leert ons niet wat vrijheid zou moeten zijn, wel hoe vrijheid in een gegeven context ervaren wordt, of juist niet.’ Wat zou de observateur Montesquieu trouwens van het dragen van hoofddoeken in scholen en openbare diensten gedacht hebben?

espritdeslois-f9b7b.jpgMontesquieu zet zijn lezers vaak op het verkeerde been. Allicht verwijst de kwalificatie ‘enigmatisch’ in de titel hiernaar. Zo lezen we in de bijdrage van Jean-Marc Piret dat Montesquieu best kan leven met cliëntelisme, het uitdelen van postjes, waarbij de uitvoerende macht steun zoekt tegen de wetgevende kamers in. Wie geen voordelen uit die hoek hoeft te verwachten, zal dan weer zijn hoop op één van beide kamers stellen. Risico is daarbij dat teleurstelling mensen kan doen overlopen naar de tegenpartij. Schaamteloos opportunisme ? Volgens Montesquieu, die zich geen illusies maakt over hoe het er in de politiek toegaat, is dit juist een teken van de ‘pluralistische vitaliteit van de maatschappij’.

Op zijn reizen stelt Montesquieu de achteruitgang vast van de Zeven Provinciën en van de republieken Venetië en Genua. Valt in Italië vooral corruptie op, in het achttiende-eeuwse Holland ziet hij alleen verval en kille zakelijkheid, sinds het land zich moest verweren tegen de invasie van Lodewijk XIV in 1672. De ooit zo bloeiende, creatieve koopmansstaat ziet zich verplicht een ruïneuze oorlog te voeren, die van de Hollanders een kil, berekenend, gesloten volk maakt, niet langer in staat tot grootse, creatieve daden. Het geweld is bovendien de grootste vijand van de eros, de humaniserende liefde zoals die groeide en bloeide ‘in het mediterrane land van wijn en olijven’, in Knidos in de Griekse oudheid (Le Temple de Gnide is een erotisch gedicht van Montesquieu naamloos uitgegeven in Amsterdam). Van de eros gesproken: Montesquieu is volgens een van de auteurs van dit boek, Ringo Ossewaarde, een liberaal ‘in de zin dat hij voor politieke en burgerlijke vrijheid staat, voor constitutionalisme, humanisme, tolerantie, matiging, internationalisme en machtsdeling en hij een afkeer heeft van absolutisme. Al deze aspecten zijn echter voor hem slechts voorwaarden voor een erotisch bestaan, voor humanisering, verfijning en verheffing.’

Als kind van zijn tijd kan Montesquieu bezwaarlijk een Europees federalist zijn, maar hij bepleit de humanisering van de verhouding tussen staten en bevolkingen en hecht daarbij veel belang aan vrijhandel en het machtsevenwicht tussen onderling afhankelijke staten. Dit kan een einde maken aan de permanente confrontatie, en de burger beschermen tegen misbruik van gezag, betoogt Frederik Dhondt in zijn bijdrage.

Zo biedt dit boek menig verrassend inzicht, waarop ik hier niet kan ingaan. Ook kan de lezer nader kennismaken met de fameuze Perzische Brieven, anoniem verschenen roman in briefvorm, een puntige satire op het absolutistische Frankrijk, die ook voor de hedendaagse lezer een eyeopener kan zijn. Montesquieu toont zich hier en elders een helder waarnemer, niet beïnvloed door modedenken, niet geneigd mee te huilen met de goegemeente, kritisch over de katholieke clerus, fel tegen de inquisitie en verwoed tegenstander van de slavernij.

Ten slotte: De l’Esprit kan niet begrepen worden zonder er de klimaattheorie van de auteur bij te betrekken. Het klimaat is voor Montesquieu en veel van zijn tijdgenoten namelijk de belangrijkste van alle invloeden op het leven van de mens. Maar diezelfde mens kan naar de overtuiging van de Franse denker door oordeelkundig handelen de invloed van het klimaat bijsturen, zo troost Patrick Stouthuysen de mogelijk verontruste lezer.

Beoordeling : * * * *
Titel boek : Montesquieu. Enigmatisch observateur
Subtitel boek :
Auteur : Maarten Colette, Frederik Dhondt, Annelien de Dijn, Paul De Hert, Michel Huysseune, Andreas Kinneging, Paul Pelckmans, Ringo Ossewaarde, Jean-Marc Piret, Alexander Roose, Patrick Stouthuysen, Lukas van den Berge
Uitgever : Uitgeverij Vrijdag, Antwerpen
Aantal pagina's : 353
Prijs : 29.99 €
ISBN nummer : 978 94 6001 472 7
Uitgavejaar : 2016

lundi, 30 mai 2016

Louis XVI et Lapérouse, la monarchie à la proue des explorations et découvertes

Louis_XIV_Laperouse-695x539.jpg

Louis XVI et Lapérouse, la monarchie à la proue des explorations et découvertes

par Mathieu Corvaisier

Ex: http://www.actionroyaliste.fr

De nos jours, et cela depuis un long moment, il faut bien avouer que l’on nous présente la Monarchie comme un système politique tantôt archaïque, tantôt tyrannique, dirigé par des monarques totalitaires, sanguinaires et qui martyrisent les peuples. Les rois sont montrés comme étant des obscurantistes rétrogrades, qui méprisent le Progrès, des personnages qui n’ont pas «la sagesse des Lumières», des brutes qui n’ont que la soif de pouvoir à l’esprit et s’enrichissent au détriment de leurs sujets. A l’inverse, les régimes dits «démocratiques», républicains, sont présentés comme étant la panacée prodiguant le bonheur par intraveineuses à ses citoyens, lesquels sont déclarés suffisamment éclairés – grâce aux Évangiles des Droits de l’Homme et de la nouvelle divinité Raison – libérés de Dieu, pouvant s’élever vers les sommets himalayens du sacro-saint Progrès.

laperouse.jpg

Il faut déjà corriger une chose, les rois, mêmes absolus et de Droit Divin, ne sont pas opposés aux progrès. Je mets ici bien en évidence la pluralité des progrès : le «Progrès» seul, tout comme la «Liberté» seule, sont des concepts très flous, filandreux. le Roi n’est pas contre les libertés individuelles, il n’est pas contre les progrès, qu’ils soient humains (médecine), techniques, technologiques, philosophiques, énergétiques… Tout comme il garantit par son autorité les libertés individuelles de ses sujets, servant d’arbitre, établissant des cadres permettant leur application concrète dans la vie de tous les jours, il utilise exactement le même mandat en ce qui concerne les différents progrès dans des domaines variés et éclectiques. Si l’un de ces progrès entrave le Bien Commun, il sera là pour trancher, dire non, à l’inverse il appuiera s’il juge nécessaire certaines initiatives et pourra même en être l’instigateur. C’est ce que nous allons voir ici avec Louis XVI et l’explorateur Jean-François Galaup de Lapérouse, dit Lapérouse.

laperouse190193.jpgC’est le Roi de France Louis XVI, en personne, qui décida de mettre sur pieds une expédition à travers le globe. Projet exceptionnel par son ambition et ses moyens, le Roi n’hésita pas à débloquer des fonds importants, à mobiliser le capitaine de vaisseaux Lapérouse, réputé comme l’un des meilleurs navigateurs français, à l’époque. Ce projet lui tiens à cœur, Louis XVI était tout sauf un obscurantiste, un ignare, il était passionné par l’astronomie, la géométrie, les mathématiques, les sciences en général. Il était polyglotte, parlant en effet parfaitement le Latin, parlait l’Allemand et l’Espagnol, et excellait en Anglais. Il était féru d’Histoire, de géographie et maîtrisait très bien l’économie. Excellent cavalier, il était aussi passionné par l’horlogerie et la serrurerie. Un roi Catholique, beaucoup plus intrigué par le monde qui l’entoure, par les sciences, par le bien-être de ses peuples que ne peut l’être les différents présidents de toutes les républiques françaises.


Le Voyage de Lapérouse est quasiment l’œuvre de sa vie, celle qu’il souhaite laisser à la postérité. C’est le plus «  marin » de tous les rois de France, Louis XVI comprit très tôt l’importance de posséder une marine puissante, bien équipée, pour titiller celle de l’Empire Britannique, qui avait à l’époque la suprématie maritime sur toutes les mers du monde. L’Armada du royaume de France brilla lors de la Guerre d’Indépendance Américaine, notamment la flotte de De Grasse qui humilia celle des Anglais lors de la fameuse bataille navale de la Baie de Chesapeake. Louis XVI, souvent montré comme un faible et un homme peu futé, était très concerné par la géostratégie. Bien avant le départ de l’expédition, il établira un cahier des charges très copieux, avec toutes ses consignes, ses désirs, les domaines dans lesquels ils souhaitaient des progrès tangibles.

Voici les mots du roi adressés au navigateur Lapérouse dans les «Instructions de Louis XVI et des académies» – Mémoires du roi, pour servir d’instruction particulière au sieur de la Pérouse, capitaine de ses vaisseaux, commandant les frégates «  La Boussole » et «  L’Astrolabe »- 26 juin 1785.

laperouseAtlas_K2.jpg«Sa Majesté ayant fait armer au port de Brest les frégates «  La Boussole », commandée par le sieur de Lapérouse, et «  L’Astrolabe », par le sieur de Langle, capitaines de ses vaisseaux, pour être employées dans un voyage de découvertes ; elle va faire connaitre au sieur de Lapérouse, à qui elle a donné le commandement en chef de ces deux bâtiments, le service qu’il aura a remplir dans l’expédition importante dont elle lui a confié la conduite. Les différents objets que Sa Majesté a eus en vue en ordonnant ce voyage, ont exigé que la présente Instruction fut divisée en plusieurs parties, afin qu’elle put en expliquer plus clairement au sieur de Lapérouse, les intentions particulières de Sa Majesté sur chacun des objets dont il devra s’occuper.
La première partie contiendra son itinéraire ou le projet de sa navigation suivant l’ordre des découvertes qu’il s’agit de faire ou de perfectionner ; et il y sera joint un recueil de notes géographiques et historiques, qui pourront le guider dans les diverses recherches auxquelles il doit se livrer.
La seconde partie traitera des objets relatifs à la politique et au commerce.
La troisième exposera les opérations relatives à l’astronomie, à la géographie, à la navigation, à la physique, et aux différentes branches de l’histoire naturelle, et réglera les fonctions des astronomes, physiciens, naturalistes, savants et artistes employés dans l’expédition.
La quatrième partie prescrira au sieur de Lapérouse la conduite qu’il devra tenir avec les peuples sauvages et les naturels des divers pays qu’il aura occasion de découvrir ou de reconnaitre.
La cinquième partie enfin lui indiquera les précautions qu’il devra prendre pour conserver la santé de ses équipages.»

Louis XVI expose avec la précision du détail chaque partie, ce serait terriblement long de tout détailler ici, mais voici, en substance, tout ce qu’il demande : pour la première partie, Lapérouse doit suivre des coordonnées précises, perfectionner les explorations de précédents illustres navigateurs tels que : Cook, Bougainville, Kerguelen de Trémarec… et établir un journal très précis avec des notes historiques-géographiques.


Dans la deuxième, Lapérouse est quasiment en mission diplomatique, il devra améliorer des relations avec différentes Nations, mettre en place des nouvelles routes commerciales, faire du troc. Il devra faire rayonner la France dans tout son périple.


La troisième partie, la partie charpentière, est celle qui nécessitera la corrélation des talents de tous les spécialistes délégués pour cette expédition (ingénieurs, savants, artistes, astronomes, botanistes, docteurs, chirurgiens, physiciens, paysagistes, horlogers…). La diversité des talents mis en commun est impressionnante et variée. Il y a même des chanoines pour évangéliser les sauvages.
Dans la quatrième partie, il s’agira de donner des conseils de savoir vivre avec les peuples croisés, de ne pas s’imposer et ne pas modifier les cultures ancestrales : les français en mission doivent se faire le plus discret possible.


laperouseCouv_193956.jpgLa dernière partie est un condensé de mesures à appliquer afin de garantir aux équipages une bonne santé mentale et physiologique , des repas nutritifs, une bonne hygiène, des vêtements bien entretenus …

Le roi de France n’a rien laissé au hasard, il met a la disposition des capitaines et des équipages du matériel de pointe. Les navires «La Boussole» et «L’Astrolabe», appelées frégates, sont en réalité des flutes, des vaisseaux de guerre démilitarisés (l’artillerie est retirée), afin de gagner en capacité de tonnage et d’éviter d’avoir à embarquer des canonniers. Les deux bâtiments mesurent chacun 41 mètres de long, ils reçoivent des techniques de protection de coques très perfectionnées, elles sont doublés par un revêtement de sapin clouté avec des clous très larges afin d’éviter la fixation de mollusques. Lapérouse bénéficiera d’instruments de mesure (longitudes, calculs astronomiques, distances lunaires…) d’une qualité unique au monde pour l’époque. Des nouveaux sextants à double réflexion, un «  cercle de Borda » système récent qui réfléchissait des images, garantissaient une précision ultime dans le calcul de distances angulaires entre deux astres, et éliminait les risques d’erreurs lors de travaux cartographiques dues au magnétisme.


Quant aux moyens humains déployés, il s’agissait à l’époque de l’élite, les meilleurs spécialistes dans leurs domaines respectifs.

Le choix du navigateur pour cette grande expédition n’est pas anodin non plus, Jean François Galaup de Lapérouse est à l’époque, déjà, un marin de génie. Depuis son plus jeune âge, le jeune Lapérouse se rêvait en grand navigateur, il admirait son oncle Clément Taffanel de la Jonquière, commandant d’un vaisseau du roi Louis XV. A l’âge de quinze ans, il s’engage dans le corps des gardes de la Marine, étape nécessaire pour devenir officier, selon la tradition de la Marine, il se voit attribuer un tuteur, le chevalier d’Arsac de Ternay. Il sera sous les ordres de son oncle lors de ses premières missions, avant de passer ensuite sous le commandement d’un autre tuteur qu’il gardera tout le long d’une brillante carrière. Il participa à la guerre d’indépendance Américaine, à bord de « l’Amazone ». Il naviguera au Canada, en 1759, à bord du «Formidable» et connait son baptême du feu. La France est en guerre depuis trois années dans la Guerre de Sept Ans, quand les 20 et 21 novembre, une escadre anglaise attaque la flotte française sous le commandement de l’amiral Conflans dans les parages de l’ile de Houat et de l’estuaire de la Vilaine. Les bâtiments français, surpris, tentent de se réfugier dans la baie de Quiberon ; ils seront pris dans de furieuses canonnades, abordages et échouages. Ce sera la bataille des Cardinaux, un massacre qui réduira énormément, et pour longtemps, les moyens de la Marine française.

histoire,france,lapérouse,louis xvi,18ème siècle,expéditions,expéditions maritimes,océan pacifiqueSuite a cette effroyable bataille, Lapérouse embarque sur le «Robuste» pour partir à l’assaut de Terre Neuve. La suite de sa carrière sera riche en événements, il enchaîne campagne sur campagne, au Canada, Terre Neuve, aux Antilles, Ile Bourbon, Inde, Madagascar…


De toutes ces missions, la plus délicate est celle qu’il accomplit en 1782 dans la baie d’Hudson. Le ministre de la Marine, le marquis de Castries, lui a donné l’ordre de détruire plusieurs établissements anglais isolés sur ces rivages lointains. L’officier obéit, mais il laisse des vivres aux vaincus, des armes et de l’équipement nécessaire pour qu’ils puissent rejoindre la civilisation. A ce geste admirable, il en ajoute un autre, et qui préfigure les principes qui présideront à son grand départ. Dans le fort d’York, il a découvert un trésor : les journaux d’exploration du gouverneur, un certain Samuel Hearne, qui a cartographié la cote septentrionale du continent américain. En ces temps où on recherche le fameux passage du Nord-Ouest, qui permettrait de relier l’Atlantique au Pacifique par le Nord de l’Amérique, ces documents présentent un intérêt géographique et politique majeur. Pourtant, la réaction de Lapérouse est celle d’un homme de science ; il rend les cartes et rapports à leur auteur, à la condition que celui-ci les publie une fois de retour à Londres. Informé du raid commandé par son ministre, Louis XVI fait savoir sa désapprobation pour cette opération aussi coûteuse qu’inutile, et commande un rapport circonstancié. C’est ainsi qu’il apprend le comportement de Lapérouse. Il ne l’oubliera pas lorsque le moment sera venu de choisir un chef pour commander sa grande expédition autour du monde.


Tous les éléments sont parfaitement réunis pour le Grand Départ.

Le 1er août 1785, le comte d’Hector, commandant de la Marine à Brest, annonce à Versailles que la « Boussole » et « l’Astrolabe » ont quitté Brest au petit matin. Depuis un mois, les deux bateaux, mouillés en rade, attendaient un vent favorable afin de mettre les voiles et débuter l’expédition soigneusement préparée à Versailles et à Brest depuis des mois.


L’expédition royale démarre officiellement son épopée, qui connaîtra un destin tragique, et sera oubliée des français à cause de la Révolution de 1789.


Après avoir sillonné les mers et océans, en passant par les îles Hawaï, faisant une escale sur l’île de Pâques sur laquelle il donna son nom à une baie, voguant le long des cotes de l’Alaska et du Canada, longeant la Cote Ouest Californienne, traversant le Pacifique pour aller en Chine, Japon, Kamtchatka… le voyage se termine dramatiquement, lorsque les deux frégates navigueront vers le Pacifique central, en approchant  les îles Samoa et Tonga, pour se rendre en Australie. Lapérouse fait une halte à « Botany Bay » d’environ deux mois pour retaper les navires, redonner des forces aux équipages. Lorsqu’ils repartiront, ils seront surpris par un cyclone qui détruira la « Boussole » et « l’Astrolabe », et emmènera les débris vers les îles Santa Cruz, en juin 1788. Les bateaux sombrèrent, les hommes périrent, certains ont peut être réussis à s’en tirer, mais il n’existe aucune preuves. Jusqu’à aujourd’hui, nous ignorons toujours le lieu exact du naufrage, si il eu des rescapés, et cela malgré les nombreuses missions de recherches lancées afin de résoudre ce que tout le monde nommera « La Malédiction de Lapérouse ». La Révolution française eu lieu un an après cette tragédie, si bien que la disparition de l’expédition de Louis XVI sera oubliée, notamment lorsque le roi fut assassiné, la légende dit que quelques temps avant sa mort, Louis XVI demandera : « A-t-on des nouvelles du sieur Lapérouse et de ses équipages ? « .

Aujourd’hui une zone de recherche crédible a été révélée, elle se situe sur l’archipel de Vanikoro, au milieu de l’Océan Pacifique, au nord-est de l’Australie. Le mystère demeure entier, et c’est l’un des buts ultime de tout les chercheurs d’épaves, trouver les restes de « La Boussole » et de l’Astrolabe ».

histoire,france,lapérouse,louis xvi,18ème siècle,expéditions,expéditions maritimes,océan pacifiqueEst-ce que ce genre d’expédition, de projet ambitieux serait possible dans le cadre d’une démocratie, d’un république ?


Oui, sans doute ; d’ailleurs il serait stupide de tirer à boulets rouges sur la république bêtement sur ce sujet, car il me vient a l’esprit l’aboutissement deux projets fantastiques : le fabuleux avion supersonique Concorde et le TGV. Il y en a surement bien d’autres. Néanmoins je pense que la monarchie offre la stabilité, la pérennité permettant d’entrevoir des œuvres pharaoniques sur le long terme permettant de faire rayonner la France et de satisfaire les français.
Qui sait, avec un roi avide de connaissances comme Louis XVI aujourd’hui pour gouverner la France, nous irions coloniser la planète Mars en y créant une Nouvelle-France, planter un drapeau à fleur de lys avant que les Américains plantent leur Star-Spangled Banner !

Il nous faut un Lapérouse pour la Conquête Spatiale !
Notre jour viendra.

Mathieu Corvaisier

mercredi, 28 octobre 2015

Edmund Burke en de mensenrechten

burke.jpg

Door: Tom Potoms

Solide solidaire samenleving

Edmund Burke en de mensenrechten

Ex: http://www.doorbraak.be

Een solide solidaire samenleving kun je moeilijk uitbouwen met een liberaal opengrenzenbeleid. Dat wist Edmund Burke al.

Met de recente vluchtelingencrisis en bijbehorende (politieke en sociaal-economische) uitdagingen voor het beleid is er ook een interessante discussie ontstaan rond de praktische invulling of interpretatie van het begrip 'mensenrechten'. Tevens hoor je weer her en der de interessante tegenstelling tussen diezelfde mensenrechten (die een 'universeel' karakter dienen te hebben) enerzijds en burgerrechten (die gekoppeld zijn aan het territorium of de jurisdictie waar men zich bevindt). 

Dit debat is zeker niet nieuw en bovendien is het boeiend om de aloude filosofische tradities te zien opduiken binnen een actueel politiek debat. Aan de 'progressieve' kant van het politieke spectrum hoor je voornamelijk dat de nadruk gelegd wordt op het feit dat vluchtelingen mensen in nood zijn en omwille van dat 'mens-in-nood-zijn' dient men, de logica van de mensenrechten volgende, hen op eenzelfde voet te behandelen (in juridische termen) als de eigen burgers. 

Meer conservatieve politici en denkers zijn een eerder trapsgewijze benadering genegen. Zo kennen we inmiddels de voorstellen van Bart De Wever die een apart statuut voor vluchtelingen voorstelt, met onder meer ook een latere uitbetaling van kindergelden. 

Hoewel de concrete (beleidsgeoriënteerde, technische) invulling anders is, deze discussies gaan terug naar de tijd van de Franse Revolutie, waar men ook soms de geboorte van de moderne politieke links-rechtsopdeling situeert. 

Gematigde versus radicale Verlichting

Binnen de Europese filosofische traditie kan men een zekere lijn trekken waarbij we aan de ene zijde de 'Schotse variant' van de Verlichting terugvinden (met denkers als David Hume, Adam Smith en Adam Ferguson) en anderzijds de Franse versie (o.m. Voltaire, Rousseau, Condorcet). Grof gesteld kan men zeggen dat de eerste richting veeleer de nadruk legt op gewoontes, traditie en maatschappelijke regels als nuttige (zelfs noodzakelijke) aspecten om onze doeleinden (vaak aangedreven door passies, driften …) tot een succesvol einde te brengen. De Schotse school stond dan ook (ongeacht de zeer eenzijdige moderne lezing van bijvoorbeeld Smith zijn ‘onzichtbare hand') eerder sceptisch ten aanzien van ideeën op het Europese continent (in Frankrijk en Duitsland) rond het geloof in de zuiver rationele vermogens van individuen. 

Hoewel zeker een scherp en interessant onderscheid tussen diverse continentale Verlichtingsfilosofen gemaakt kan worden, zien we dat binnen de Franse traditie (met de cartesiaanse twijfel als methodologisch instrument) de idee van maatschappelijke regels die gefundeerd dienen te worden in rationele analyse vruchtbare grond vond. Uit het idee van individuen als vrije, autonome en rationele wezens, behept met zekere universeel geldende rechten, ziet men dan ook veeleer de moderne progressieve idee van politiek als een instrument tot 'social engineering'. Instituties, gewoontes en regels die men niet kan funderen vanuit rationalistische kritiek zijn 'imperfect' en dienen vervangen te worden. 

Denkers die binnen de traditie van de Schotse school werken, o.m. conservatieve en klassiek-liberale denkers, hameren op het feit dat vele instituties en maatschappelijke regels ontstaan uit een lang evolutionair (historisch) proces en moeilijk samen te vatten of te funderen zijn in rationele analyse. Toch zijn zulke regels uitermate nuttig, precies omdat ze ontstaan zijn uit een lang evolutionair  trial and error -proces. Regels die niet voldoende effectief zijn in de verwezenlijking van individuen hun doeleinden zullen na verloop van tijd verdwijnen. Deze redeneerstijl kan men terugvinden in de kritiek van Friedrich August von Hayek op het socialisme (en aanverwante 'constructivistische' ideologieën) om de maatschappij te hervormen op basis van 'rationele' analyse'. 

Edmund Burke en de mensenrechten

In deze context is ook de Iers/Britse politicus Edmund Burke (1729-1797) van tel. Burke geldt als een inspiratiebron voor N-VA voorzitter Bart de Wever. Daarom ga ik na wat de 'vader van het moderne conservatisme' te zeggen had over mensenrechten. 

burke781108018845.jpgVooreerst is het belangrijk om op te merken dat sommigen een schijnbare paradox vaststellen bij Burkes gedachtegoed. Zo was hij enerzijds een fervente criticus van het Britse koloniale bestuur in Indië en ondersteunde hij de Amerikaanse revolutionairen in hun onafhankelijkheidsstrijd, anderzijds was hij een fervente tegenstander van de Franse revolutionairen. De meeste auteurs wijzen echter op de continuïteit die men in deze attitudes aantreft, vooral wanneer men nauwgezet de Reflections on the revolution in France (1790) erop naleest. In dit werk, waarvoor hij zo bekend (of berucht) is geworden als vader van het moderne politieke conservatisme, maakt hij een duidelijk onderscheid tussen de traditie van de (Engelse) Glorious Revolution (1688) (en die hij ook terugvond bij de Amerikaanse revolutie) en de Franse revolutionairen van 1789 en nadien. 

Bij de Engelse en Amerikaanse revoluties, zo beargumenteert Burke, ging het niet om het opeisen van universele, natuurlijke rechten van individuen die men moest institutionaliseren, maar veeleer om het verdedigen van de oude gevestigde rechten en wederzijdse verplichtingen (krachtsverhoudingen) tussen vorst en maatschappij. Zoals Burke noteert: 

'The Revolution [De Engelse Glorious Revolution waarbij James II werd vervangen door Willem III van Oranje, hetgeen final resulteerde in de Bill of Rights, 1689, TP] was made to preserve our ancient, indisputable laws and liberties, and that ancient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty. If you are desirous of knowing the spirit of our constitution, and the policy which predominated in that great period which has secured it to this hour, pray look for both in our histories, in our records, in our acts of parliament, and journals of parliament, and not in the sermons of the Old Jewry, and the after­dinner toasts of the Revolution Society [Een Engels radicaal genootschap, TP].'

Belangrijk in de kritiek van Burke is het gegeven dat 'abstracte' principes (zoals het formuleren van natuurlijke rechten), wanneer ze los komen te staan van het gewoonterecht en tradities die geëvolueerd zijn binnen een samenleving ('circumstances' ) aanleiding geven tot een erosie in gezag van de gevestigde instituties en dit heeft op zijn beurt weer verregaande niet-bedoelde (en potentieel zeer schadelijke) zij-effecten: 

'These metaphysic rights entering into common life, like rays of light which pierce into a dense medium, are by the laws of nature refracted from their straight line. Indeed, in the gross and complicated mass of human passions and concerns the primitive rights of men undergo such a variety of refractions and reflections that it becomes absurd to talk of them as if they continued in the simplicity of their original direction. The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and, therefore, no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature or to the quality of his affairs. When I hear the simplicity of contrivance aimed at and boasted of in any new political constitutions, I am at no loss to decide that the artificers are grossly ignorant of their trade or totally negligent of their duty.'

Een van die onvoorspelbare zij-effecten op politiek vlak, aldus Burke, zou zijn dat het verval van de gevestigde machten kan leiden tot initieel anarchie en chaos waarop dan enkel een tiranniek regime de orde zou kunnen herstellen. Dit heeft men uiteraard effectief vastgesteld in de Jakobijnse Terreur en het daaropvolgende napoleontische bewind. 

Die prudentiële houding tegenover het formuleren van universele rechten, wars van praktische toepasbaarheid binnen historische sociale omstandigheden, vormt de basis van Burke zijn notie van rechten en vrijheden. Op die manier kan men Burke dus veeleer aan de kant van de burgerrechten plaatsen. Burke wenste evenwel niet over te gaan tot een volledige verwerping van welbepaalde burgerlijke vrijheden en rechten:

'The pretended rights of these theorists [de voorstanders van 'abstracte, natuurlijke' rechten, TP] are all extremes; and in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false. The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned. The rights of men in governments are their advantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good; in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes, between evil and evil.'

Lessen voor vandaag? 

De kritiek van klassiek-conservatieve denkers als Burke is uiterst pertinent en dient men serieus te nemen, zeker in het licht van de goede voorspellingen die vervat zitten in het doortrekken van 'abstracte' en 'rationalistische' principes om te komen tot maatschappelijke veranderingen. Totalitarisme (zoals vertegenwoordigd in nationaalsocialisme en communisme) is immers gefundeerd, aldus Hannah Arendt in haar Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), in het koelbloedig toepassen van logisch denken: 'This stringent logicality as a guide to action permeabel the whole structuren of totalitarian movements and governments.'

De reden waarom zoveel mensen uiterst verontwaardigd reageren op bepaalde pleidooien om rechten louter vanuit de bril van burgerrechten te bekijken, is uiteraard dat deze houding zeer snel kan ontaarden tot een egocentrisch of opportunistisch politiek discours, waarbij men de angsten van burgers exploiteert voor electorale motieven. Dit is soms een terechte vrees (waarmee ik mij niet uitlaat over de motieven van bijvoorbeeld Bart De Wever) en daar dienen we ook een afdoende theoretisch antwoord op te formuleren. 

Een goede bron daartoe is de al aangehaalde Hannah Arendt. Zij was zich, als Joodse Duitser, maar al te zeer bewust van enerzijds een doorgedreven ontkennen van menselijkheid als universeel principe en anderzijds de zwakte van 'mensenrechten' om aanvallen op de rechten van individuen tegen te gaan. Arendt formuleerde daarom, uitgaande van een gedeelde menselijkheid (en dus een zeker universalisme) als alternatief het 'recht op rechten', wat impliceert dat elk individu het recht heeft om tot een politieke gemeenschap te behoren. Dit sluit een permanente uitsluiting vanwege elke gemeenschap van bepaalde individuen uit, maar vereist daarentegen ook niet dat men een opengrenzenbeleid moet voeren. 

In die zin kan ik mij, als gematigde sociaaldemocraat die sterk geïnspireerd is door Hannah Arendt, volmondig scharen achter een gefaseerde, stapsgewijze toekenning van rechten. Niet alleen vervalt dit niet in een onhaalbaar en schadelijk (in de zin van het opbreken van het ongeschreven sociale contract tussen burgers, die de fundering is voor solidariteit binnen een politieke gemeenschap) idealisme, maar ook niet in een opportunistisch egoïsme. Ik zou dan ook mijn collega's aan de linkerzijde, zeker binnen de sociaaldemocratie, oproepen om deze moeilijke, maar gezonde middenweg, te bewandelen. Zeker indien men bekommerd is om het instandhouden van de broze en noodzakelijke ondersteuning vanuit de burgers voor de systemen van herverdeling en solidariteit (de sociale zekerheid). Met egoïsme heeft dit niets te maken, integendeel. Zoals de Amerikaanse Democratische presidentskandidaat (en zelfverklaard 'democratisch socialist') Bernie Sanders onlangs stelde: het zijn liberale tegenstanders van de welvaartsstaat die de meeste belangen hebben bij een volledig opengrenzenbeleid.

 

vendredi, 23 janvier 2015

La France de Voltaire n’est pas celle de l’antiracisme

Voltaire.jpg

CONFORMISME : RELIRE VOLTAIRE N’EST PAS SANS RISQUE
 
La France de Voltaire n’est pas celle de l’antiracisme

Jean Ansar
Ex: http://metamag.fr

La mobilisation pour la France, mère des libertés, au lendemain des tueries de Paris à remis sur le devant de la scène Voltaire. Ces livres étaient chez certains libraires où on peut encore les trouver avant la rupture de stock.


Voltaire est présenté comme la lumière contre l’obscurantisme religieux. Mais le père de Candide n’était pas que cela. Voltaire, à dire vrai, revient de loin. Il y a deux ans l'idéologie dominante était sur le point de le ravaler au rang des infréquentables aux cotés de Tintin au Congo. Ceux qui célèbrent voltaire étaient sur le point de le condamner  comme un vulgaire Zemmour. Il est vrai que le citoyen de Genève avait la plume assassine mais pas seulement pour les curés.


Petit retour sur l'abominable Voltaire redevenu phare de la pensée française


En août 2012 le journal Le Point proposait un portait de Voltaire qui devrait être lu par la gauche unanimiste de 2015. « Apôtre de la tolérance, le prince des Lumières a aussi sa part d'ombre. Il se révèle misogyne, homophobe, antijuif, islamophobe. Quelle faute ! » Ah bon ! Et avec cette formidable lucidité de notre grosse presse, le journal continue opposant Voltaire à Rousseau. « Celui qui s'efface, qu'on lit moins, qui semble presque tomber dans l'oubli, c'est Voltaire. Il a ce qu'il faut pour déplaire : il aime l'argent, la gloire, le progrès, la raison. Il se méfie du peuple, que nous croyons infaillible, et lutte sans relâche contre un clergé qui, à présent, a disparu. Personne ne s'inquiète plus des pouvoirs de l'Église, à part deux ou trois attardés qui se croient encore au XIXe siècle».


On lui reconnait pourtant quelques mérites. « Avant lui, aucun homme d'idées et de plume n'avait jamais fait rapporter une décision de justice contraire à la dignité et à l'humanité. L'affaire Calas, l'affaire Sirven, celle du chevalier de La Barre furent pour le philosophe de grandes batailles, de belles victoires. Voltaire a pris des risques, il a consacré à ces hautes luttes du temps et des forces, sans en attendre aucun profit. Quand il se lance dans ces combats, l'écrivain a passé la soixantaine, il a fait fortune, assis sa notoriété dans toute l'Europe. Il ne se bat pas pour sa gloire, mais pour des principes universels. »


Oui mais ! « Ainsi, dans "Essai sur les mœurs et l'esprit des nations" (1756), il est vraiment très loin d'affirmer l'unité du genre humain : "Il n'est permis qu'à un aveugle, écrit Voltaire, de douter que les Blancs, les nègres, les albinos, les Hottentots, les Chinois, les Américains ne soient des races entièrement différentes." 


Voltaire et les femmes


« En général, elle est bien moins forte que l'homme, moins grande, moins capable de longs travaux ; son sang est aqueux, sa chair moins compacte, ses cheveux plus longs, ses membres plus arrondis, les bras moins musculeux, la bouche plus petite, les fesses plus relevées, les hanches plus écartées, le ventre plus large. Ces caractères distinguent les femmes dans toute la terre, chez toutes les espèces, depuis la Laponie jusqu'à la côte de Guinée, en Amérique comme à la Chine."


Voltaire Homophobe


« L'homosexualité masculine est pour lui un "sujet honteux et dégoûtant", un "attentat infâme contre la nature", une "abomination dégoûtante", une "turpitude" (article "Amour socratique" du "Dictionnaire philosophique"). Il tente même d'en disculper les Grecs et minimise la place des relations sexuelles entre hommes dans l'Antiquité. Pareil acharnement est d'autant plus curieux qu'il est difficile de l'imputer au climat de l'époque : les élites du XVIIIe siècle sont de moins en moins sévères à ce propos, et Frédéric II de Prusse, que Voltaire a conseillé et fréquenté assidûment, revendiquait sans vergogne son homosexualité.


Voltaire antisémite


« Il parle d'eux abondamment, et de manière récurrente, comme du "plus abominable peuple de la terre", et cela tout au long des mêmes années glorieuses où il défend Calas et la tolérance. C'est d'ailleurs à l'article "Tolérance" du "Dictionnaire philosophique" qu'il est sans doute le plus ouvertement ignoble : "C'est à regret que je parle des juifs : cette nation est, à bien des égards, la plus détestable qui ait jamais souillé la terre."


On garde le meilleur pour la fin


« Dans sa pièce "Le fanatisme ou Mahomet", rédigée en 1736, jouée à Lille puis à Paris en 1741 et 1742, Voltaire juge le Prophète en des termes qui sont, eux aussi, d'une extrême violence. Au fil des dialogues, Mahomet est appelé "monstre", "imposteur", "barbare", "Arabe insolent", "brigand", "traître", "fourbe", "cruel"- avec pour finir le verdict sans appel de cet alexandrin : "Et de tous les tyrans c'est le plus criminel." Voilà qui suffit largement pour ranger notre icône des Lumières dans la catégorie des islamophobes. Voila une pièce que l’on  devrait monter au nom de la liberté d’expression non ?


A dire vrai, il louera plus tard une certaine tolérance musulmane … Mais Le Point l’expliquait très bien.  C'était alors inscrit dans une cohérence anti-chrétienne.


« On ne saura oublier que c'est sans doute moins l'islam qui l'intéresse que l'usage qu'il peut en faire contre le catholicisme. Certains expliquent ainsi la plupart des violences voltairiennes ; ne pensant qu'à"écraser "l'infâme" (le fanatisme, incarné par l'Église et le clergé), le philosophe ferait feu de tout bois. S'il attaque tant les juifs, ce serait parce que le christianisme se réclame de la Bible, s'il dénonce la violence de Mahomet, c'est en visant celle des chrétiens, s'il loue la tolérance musulmane, c'est pour mieux dénoncer la religion chrétienne, «la plus ridicule, la plus absurde et la plus sanguinaire qui ait jamais infecté le monde", écrit-il à Frédéric II de Prusse en 1767. »


La récupération  de Voltaire n’est donc jamais sans danger


En février 1942, sort à Paris : " Voltaire antijuif ". Ce volume de 262 pages a été publié par Les Documents contemporains grâce à des fonds allemands, débloqués par Goebbels à la demande de l'auteur de cette anthologie de textes de Voltaire, le professeur Henri Labroue (1880-1964). Cet antisémite virulent, ami de Louis Darquier de Pellepoix et d'Abel Bonnard, inaugura à la Sorbonne, le 15 décembre 1942, un cours  " histoire du judaïsme " qui était de la propagande antisémite. Son objectif, en rassemblant les textes de Voltaire contre les juifs, était d'établir l'ancienneté de l'antisémitisme français. Le point n'a pas été le seul dans cette campagne de diabolisation de Voltaire.


On peut côter l'article "Voltaire et le racisme des lumières" de contreculture.orgou "Voltaire antisémite" de passion lettres.
Sans oublier l'Express…« Certains passages de Voltaire sont aujourd'hui insoutenables, notamment quand il qualifie les Juifs de "peuple le plus abominable de la terre". Ou quand il raconte que, dans l'Antiquité, c'était un clan de "voleurs vagabonds", qui "égorgeait sans pitié tous les habitants d'un malheureux petit pays sur lequel il n'avait pas plus de droit qu'il n'en a sur Paris et sur Londres". Mais ces accents antijudaïques ne doivent pas être interprétés comme de l'antisémitisme. A travers ces charges outrancières, il vise en fait la religion catholique, dont le judaïsme est la source historique. "Il en veut aux juifs d'être à l'origine de ce tissu de mensonges qu'est selon lui la Bible", explique l'historien Pierre Milza, auteur d'une volumineuse biographie (Voltaire, éditions Perrin). Pour l'écrivain, les miracles de Moïse, comme ceux de Jésus, sont des fables de charlatan.» 


Mais les propos de Voltaire sur les «nègres» sont d’une violence et d’un racisme tel qu'ils ne s’expliquent pas par la cohérence d’un combat. Le racisme de Voltaire est inouï…. Cet esclavagiste va très loin et en fait ne considère pas les noirs comme des hommes même s'il les met au-dessus des albinos.


Tout cela pour dire tout de même qu’il faut se méfier des simplifications  et récupérations. De toute évidence la France de Voltaire peut en cacher une autre.

 

00:05 Publié dans Philosophie | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) | Tags : france, voltaire, 18ème siècle | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

lundi, 14 juillet 2014

Habsburg betekende meer voor de Zuidelijke Nederlanden dan Oranje

WAPPEN~1.PNG

Hoch Habsburg!

Habsburg betekende meer voor de Zuidelijke Nederlanden dan Oranje

door Xavier Everaert

Ex: http://www.doorbraak.be

Op de vooravond van 200 jaar Willem I houdt Xavier Everaert een betoog om de orangistische euforie te temperen.

Voor een groot deel van de Vlaamse Beweging is 2015 een feestjaar om reikhalzend naar uit te kijken. Ik grijp dit graag aan om, een discussie te openen die zich tegenwoordig enkel ontspint tussen pot en pint van het iets belezener segment van de Vlaamse Beweging. Een discussie die vroeger wel eens de ‘legitimistische versus ultralegitimistische kwestie’ werd genoemd. .

Voor de orangistische lezer wil ik beginnen met het werk van misschien wel Vlaanderens meest belezen orangist Karim Van Overmeire te prijzen. Zijn boek Het Verloren Vaderland, het Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden 1815-1830 (Uitgeverij Egmont, 2005) is een aanrader voor elke orangist, groot- en heel-Nederlander. Doch ben ik van mening dat de lofzang op het Verenigd Koninkrijk en in het bijzonder koning Willem eerder is ingegeven door een gevoel van overcompensatie en cognitieve dissonantie dan een historisch-feitelijke bilan. Willem was in geen geval de ‘bevrijder’ van de Zuidelijke Nederlanden en evenmin de wegbereider van de latere Belgische pioniersrol in de continentale industriële economische ontwikkeling. Een belangrijke periode die men, zeker in orangistische kringen, graag lijkt te vergeten is de belangrijke periode van autonomie die de Zuidelijke Nederlanden genoten tussen 1715 en 1790, onder de Oostenrijkse tak van de Habsburgers. Een betoog ter (her)waardering van de Oostenrijkse periode, in tijden van (nakende) oranjegekte.

Oostenrijkse Nederlanden

Als gevolg van de Spaanse Successieoorlog en de afkondiging van de Vrede van Utrecht van 1713 werden de Zuidelijke Nederlanden overgeheveld van de Spaanse naar de Oostenrijkse tak van de Habsburgers. De Franse pretendent Filips van Anjou werd door de Europese mogendheden erkend als de nieuwe legitieme vorst van Spanje, in ruil voor verzaking aan zijn aanspraken op de Franse troon en het verlies van de Spaanse gebieden in Italië en de Nederlanden. De Vrede van Utrecht was het sluitstuk van een grote pacificatiestrategie van de economische grootmachten Engeland en Nederland. Met de Engelse erkenning van Filips van Anjou werden de relaties met Spanje genormaliseerd en de dood van Lodewijk XIV in 1715 betekende ook meteen het einde van Franse oorlogszucht. De Nederlandse Republiek had aangestuurd op een buffer tussen Nederland en Frankrijk, zonder dat het zelf wou instaan voor de militaire implicaties daarvan. Bij een eventuele Franse inval wou de Republiek voornamelijk tijd kopen om zich te bewapenen. Een bevriende mogendheid die de militaire verdedigingsgordel die de Zuidelijke Nederlanden uiteindelijk moesten worden kon bekostigen, werd gevonden in Oostenrijk. De Oostenrijkse Habsburgers stonden niet te springen om de Zuidelijke Nederlanden over te nemen van de Spanjaarden. Meermaals hebben zij de Zuidelijke Nederlanden proberen betrekken in ruilovereenkomsten met de hertog van Savoye in 1720, en met de hertog van Beieren in 1778. Beide zonder succes. Laat nu net deze desinteresse een belangrijke rol gespeeld hebben in de economische ontwikkeling van de Zuidelijke Nederlanden in de 18e eeuw.

 

an171389.gif

 

Terwijl Oostenrijk zich bestuurlijk hervormde en een sterkere centralistische koers ging varen, genoten de Zuidelijke Nederlanden een tot dan toe ongekende autonomie. Dit stond uiteraard in schril contrast met de strategie van de Spaanse Habsburgers, die steeds een bikkelharde bedenpolitiek voerden en ongemeen harde represailles hadden genomen. Karel VI, die regeerde via landvoogdes Maria Elisabeth, schroefde de publieke uitgaven drastisch terug en zette duidelijk in op een verzoening met de Staten in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden. Karels non-interventiebeleid resulteerde in een sterke economische groei, na meer dan een halve eeuw economische terugval na de sluiting van de Schelde in 1648. Onder Karels opvolger Maria Theresia kenden de Zuidelijke Nederlanden hun grootste economische bloei sinds keizer Karel V, tot groot ongenoegen van de Engelsen. Engeland had met de toekenning aan Oostenrijk een totale militarisering van de Zuidelijke Nederlanden voor ogen. Een zwaarbewapende regio die élke mogendheid in Europa moest ontmoedigen om militaire actie tegen een andere mogendheid te ondernemen. Een grote blunder van Engeland. In 1722 werd de Oostendse Compagnie opgericht naar het model van de VOC, die toen al over haar hoogtepunt heen was. In de periode 1725-28 had de Oostendse Compagnie een marktaandeel van 58% in de West-Europese thee-invoer, en liet daarmee de VOC met 13% ver achter zich. De oprichting van de Oostendse Compagnie was in onmiddellijke overtreding van het Verdrag van Münster, dat Vlaamse overzeese handel ten stelligste had verboden, om zo de Nederlandse commerciële vloot te bevoordelen.

Handel en industrie

De Oostenrijkse periode was van vitaal belang voor de renaissance van de Vlaamse handelsgeest, die onder druk van de Republiek en Engeland sinds 1648 werd gefnuikt. Niet alleen de wedergeboorte als zeevarende natie, ook de aanleg van de verbeterde steenwegen kende haar hoogtepunt onder de Habsburgers, en niet – zoals vele orangisten beweren - onder Willem. Tijdens de Oostenrijkse periode werd maar liefst 2841 km wegen aangelegd in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden, waarvan het merendeel in het oude Graafschap Vlaanderen (1141 km)[1]; een veelvoud van de aanleg onder Willem (zelfs gecorrigeerd in de tijd). Vermeldenswaardig hierbij is dat van de traditionele centralistische planning van wegen in de Oostenrijkse periode geen sprake was. De wegenbouw was grotendeels een private aangelegenheid, en gericht op commercieel in plaats van militair transport. De ongeschiktheid van de ‘Belgische’ wegen voor militaire doeleinden zou honderd jaar later Napoleon duur komen te staan, terwijl het intensieve commerciële wegennet de weg zou vrijmaken voor het regionale specialistische wegennet, en dus een belangrijke verklarende factor is in het vraagstuk over de Belgische leidersrol in de continentale industrialisering. Ook de hardnekkige mythe van Willems rol in de aanleg van het kanaal Gent-Terneuzen moet tegen dit kritische licht gehouden worden: het kanaal werd uitgediept in de bestaande bedding van het kanaal Gent-Zelzate, dat door de Nederlandse blokkade van Zeeland een doorgang tot Terneuzen steeds in de weg had gestaan.

Dankzij de uitbouw van het wegennet en de afwezigheid van fysiocratische centrale planning, in schril contrast met de protectionistische politiek van Frankrijk en Engeland op dat moment, groeiden de Zuidelijke Nederlanden uit tot de belangrijkste uitvoerder van graan, tarwe, rogge en vlas van Europa[2]. Voor het eerst in de geschiedenis boekten de Zuidelijke Nederlanden een overschot op hun handelsbalans en behoorden hongersnoden definitief tot het verleden[3]. Engelands leidende rol in de industrialisering ging gepaard met een sterke bevolkingsgroei die het politieke draagvlak voor een protectionistisch landbouwbeleid aanzienlijk vergrootte. In 1757 werd de export van graan naar het continent vrijwel volledig opgeschort. Hiermee werd de Republiek plots geconfronteerd met een hardnekkig tekort aan landbouwproducten. Internationale handel, vooral over zee, was op dat moment erg duur geworden door het einde van de monopolistische vaarroutes, waardoor de handel over land steeds belangrijker werd. Hierdoor werden de Oostenrijkse Nederlanden de belangrijkste voedselleverancier van de Republiek. De enorme vraag vanuit de Republiek voor landbouwproducten uit de Zuidelijke Nederlanden zorgde voor een belangrijke en doorgedreven diversificatie van de Vlaamse en Waalse agrarische industrie[4]. De eigen bevolking ging ook steeds veel minder verbruiken onder invloed van de opkomende aardappelcultuur. De belangrijke economische verstrengeling tussen de Zuidelijke Nederlanden (producent) en de Republiek (consument) was de voornaamste garantie op vrede tussen beide gebieden tot 1830[5]. In dit opzicht is het ook niet verwonderlijk dat Lieven Bauwens in 1800 met de Mule Jenny naar Vlaanderen en niet naar Nederland kwam. De economische goederenstroom van Zuid naar Noord bleek ook een belangrijke doorslaggevende factor te zijn in de oprichting van de Société Générale in 1822.

Een niet onbeduidende kanttekening, zeker in het licht van de vermaledijde Brabantse Omwenteling: de populariteit van ‘Belgische’ producten op buitenlandse markten werd hevig tegengewerkt door de Staten, die zo goedkoop mogelijke prijzen nastreefden op de nationale markt, in overeenstemming met de protectionistische politiek van Engeland en Frankrijk[6].

De missers van keizer Jozef

De eerlijkheid gebiedt mij, ook als overtuigd ‘ultralegitimist’, een paragraaf te wijden aan de politieke missers van keizer Jozef, God hebbe zijn ziel, die in de tien woelige jaren voorafgaand aan de Brabantse Omwenteling, over onze gewesten regeerde. Inderdaad, keizer Jozef had de goede relaties tussen de ‘Belgen’ en de Oostenrijkse monarchie op enkele jaren tijd erg verzuurd. Zijn schromelijke onderschatting van de Roomse greep op de Zuidelijke Nederlanden en de macht van de Staten hebben tot de jammerlijke opstand geleid die wij vandaag kennen als de Brabantse Omwenteling, wat in feite niet meer was dan een opportunistisch los verbond tussen de verarmde clerus (de Vrede van Münster had hun rol als wereldlijke machthebbers aanzienlijk beperkt), de ambachten (wier rol in een groeiende en diversifiërende markt uitgespeeld leek) en de vrijmetselarij (Van der Noot, die tot de corrupte oligarchie van de ‘Zeven Geslachten van Brussel’ behoorde) in een wanhopige poging om hun greep op de samenleving opnieuw te verstevigen. Het verzet tegen Jozefs afschaffing van de Staten en de herroeping van de Blijde Inkomst moet tegen dit kritische licht gehouden worden: dit waren instituties die niet werden ontmanteld om de greep van de keizer op de Zuidelijke Nederlanden te verstevigen, maar om de Zuidelijke Nederlanden te wapenen tegen de nakende uitdagingen van de 19e eeuw: de industrialisering en het vrij ondernemerschap. Keizer Jozef was misschien wel politiek ongeletterd, economisch was hij een ongeëvenaarde visionair van het kaliber dat Vlaanderen nu zo hardnekkig ontbeert.

Toen keizer Jozef overleed in 1790, wist zijn broer keizer Leopold de vrede te herstellen. Op de Conventie van Den Haag verbond Oostenrijk er zich uitdrukkelijk toe om de autonomie van de Oostenrijkse Nederlanden te respecteren. Keizer Leopold, in al zijn goedheid, verleende de opstandelingen gratie en voerde een aantal belangrijke fiscale hervormingen door in 1790-‘91, voornamelijk de afschaffing van de accijnzen en een uniformering van de personele belasting en de zegelrechten, alsook de afschaffing van de lokale belastingen, de zogenaamde octrooien (stedelijke douanerechten).

'Brabantse' Omwenteling

Wanneer de Oostenrijkse Nederlanden in 1794 onder de voet werden gelopen door de Franse revolutionairen zagen de samenzweerders van de Brabantse omwenteling hun kans schoon om een onafhankelijk ‘België’ te stichten onder Franse voogdij, maar Napoleon weigerde de eis van de Comité des Belges et Liégeois Unis, en annexeerde de Zuidelijke Nederlanden bij Frankrijk. In 1797 erkenden de Oostenrijkers het verlies middels de Vrede van Campo Formio, en het jaar erop werden de accijnzen en de lokale belastingen die Leopold had afgeschaft terug ingevoerd.

Op het Congres van Wenen (1815) zetten de Britten hun verkeerde inschatting van 1713 recht en kenden ze de Zuidelijke Nederlanden toe aan Nederland. De Oostenrijkers, die geruïneerd uit de Napoleontische oorlogen kwamen, bleken niet in staat hun rol als ‘politieman van Europa’ naar behoren te vervullen, en werden vervallen verklaard van hun zeggenschap over de Zuidelijke Nederlanden.

Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden

Iets waar ik de orangisten binnen de Vlaamse Beweging op attent wil maken, is hun inconsistentie houding ten aanzien van de Belgische en de heel-Nederlandse kwestie. Artikel 1 van de Acht Artikelen van Londen bepaalde dat het nieuwe Verenigd Koninkrijk een unitaire natie zou zijn onder de bestaande Nederlandse grondwet. De stemming over die grondwet zou met een meerderheid in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden worden weggestemd, maar die stemming werd ongeldig verklaard, en de grondwet werd schaamteloos aangenomen. Terwijl de Zuidelijke Nederlanden 3,5 miljoen inwoners telde en de Noordelijke 2, werden de parlementaire zetels paritair verdeeld: 55 elk. Het Zuiden moest bijspringen in het afbetalen van de Nederlandse oorlogsschuld van 1726 miljoen gulden, een schuld waar het helemaal geen aandeel in heeft gehad. Drie op vier ambtenaren waren Noord-Nederlanders en alle publieke instellingen bevonden zich in het Noorden. Terwijl het Zuiden katholiek was, voorzag de Nederlandse grondwet de uitdrukkelijke bepaling dat de koning der Nederlanden nooit een katholiek kon zijn. Vijf op de zes legerofficieren kwamen uit het Noorden. Er was geen persvrijheid, althans niet voor de pers in het Zuiden, en geen godsdienstvrijheid of onderwijsvrijheid voor de katholieken. Ondanks het grote aandeel Franstalige Nederlanders, was de enige officiële landstaal Nederlands, en werden Franstalige medeburgers in het Nederlands berecht en door de overheid bediend. Willem weigerde de Zuidelijke vraag naar ministeriële verantwoordelijkheid in te willigen, waardoor parlementaire controle op de uitvoerende macht onmogelijk was. De Raad van State, op dat moment een adviesorgaan van Willem, kon wetgeving aannemen zonder parlementaire goedkeuring. De waslijst met voorbeelden van autocratische waanzin is vrijwel eindeloos, en het ondemocratische dna van het Verenigd Koninkrijk, waar menig orangist mee dweept, doet pijnlijk denken aan het België van heden.

In 1822 richtte Willem de Société Générale op. Officieel om de economie in het Zuiden te stimuleren.Mmaar zijn onorthodoxe praktijken – die vandaag zou worden gecatalogeerd onder de term ‘handel met voorkennis’ – kwam in feite neer op het verzekeren van noordelijke controle op de productie en investeringen in het Zuiden. Om het in hedendaagse termen te zeggen: een garantie op ‘transfers’ van Zuid naar Noord. Dit verklaart ook waarom amper Zuiderlingen intekenden op de aandelen van de Société Générale. Het latere België werd volledig afgesneden van de internationale kapitaalmarkt en zo in zijn industriële groei gefnuikt. De economische welvaart die de Zuidelijke Nederlanden onder de Oostenrijkse Habsburgers hadden opgebouwd na de economische isolatie sinds 1648, en de pioniersrol in de industrialisering die België via het Gent van Lieven Bauwens speelde rond 1800, werd onder Willem een halt toegeroepen en trok pas na de Belgische revolutie terug aan.

 

*

* *

 

Zo, een broodnodige kanttekening bij de nakende oranjegekte van 2015, die de Vlaamse Beweging ongetwijfeld in haar greep zal hebben, is bij deze geschetst. Laat dit vooral een aanzet zijn om het debat over de mythe van Willem te voeren, en de nodige caveats te plaatsen bij zijn hagiografie. Misschien kan dit wel een aansporing zijn om meer aandacht te besteden aan de Oostenrijkse periode, een belangrijk cesuur van vrede en voorspoed in de anders zo woelige en bloedige geschiedenis van de Zuidelijke Nederlanden.

Xavier Everaert is doctoraatsstudent in de rechtseconomie aan de Universiteit van Turijn.


[1] A.R.A., Raad van Financiën, nrs. 5748-5805.

[2] Algemeen Rijksarchief Brussel, Raad van Financiën, nrs. 5748-5805.

[3] E. Scholliers, De levensstandaard in de XVe en XVIe eeuw te Antwerpen, Antwerpen 1960.

[4] P. Lindemans, Geschiedenis van de landbouw in België, Brussel, 1852.

[5] J.A. Faver, Het probleem van de dalende graanaanvoer uit de Oostzeelanden in de tweede helft van de XVIIe eeuw, in AAG Bijdragen, nr. 9, Wageningen 1963, 3-28.

[6] A.R.A., Oostenrijkse Kanselarij der Nederlanden, nr. 505.

samedi, 02 novembre 2013

De Boerenkrijg tussen hamer en aambeeld

boerenkrijg.jpg

Archief 1998

De Boerenkrijg tussen hamer en aambeeld

Wannes Alverdinck en Jan Creve

Ex: http://www.devrijbuiter.be

Tweehonderd jaar geleden werd in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden een ware oorlog uitgevochten. Gedurende 3 maanden streden verspreide plattelandslegertjes tegen één van de machtigste oorlogsmachines van die tijd. De Franse invaller won tenslotte het pleit maar de strijd van de Brigands bleef voortleven in de herinnering. Honderden activiteiten in tal van Vlaamse gemeenten herdachten afgelopen maanden deze 'Boerenkrijg' (1). Maar van overheidswege werd er in alle talen gezwegen. Minister van Binnenlandse Zaken Di Rupo wilde er zelfs geen postzegel aan wijden.

TWEE VISIES

Is de Boerenkrijg wel zo belangrijk geweest dat we er papier aan zouden verspillen!? Grosso modo zijn twee meningen te onderscheiden die lijnrecht tegenover elkaar staan:

1. De Boerenkrijg was de strijd van ons volk tegen een vreemde indringer. Het was een bevrijdingsstrijd. Een heroïsche strijd. De herdenking is een eerbetoon aan deze helden.

2. De Boerenkrijg is een oproer geweest van een minderheid, van wat landvolk en geboefte. Een laatste opstoot van een voorbijgestreefde en verdwijnende wereld. Het betreft een fait-divers dat enkel interesse verdient vanuit wetenschappelijk-historisch oogpunt.

De eerste benadering vindt voornamelijk aanhang bij Vlaamsgezinde katholieken, al is dat ooit anders geweest (2), de tweede is die van het politieke en historisch-wetenschappelijke establishment.

De enen willen bewijzen dat de Boerenkrijg een volksopstand was van Vlaanderen tegen het Franse imperialisme. De anderen (zien zij de wervende kracht van dit postulaat?) grijpen - onder het mom van wetenschappelijkheid - alles aan om de Boerenkrijg te minimaliseren. Zo is er het werk van de Gentse professor Luc François die niets onverlet laat om de Boerenkrijg af te doen als een geheel van onbeduidende en onge-organiseerde opstandjes. Op zich is het uitgangspunt van François en zijn studenten, namelijk de historische feiten scheiden van de 19de eeuwse (romantische) fictie, zéér lovens-waardig. Maar het resultaat is niet om wild van te worden: Het negeren van een aantal historische documenten, vereenvoudigingen, zelfs verdraaiingen zijn eerder regel dan uitzondering. Zo geeft men in dit boek een opsomming van gemeenten "zonder", met "een kleine", "een grotere" en "een sterke actiebereidheid". Wat we hieronder in concreto moeten verstaan is onduidelijk maar de bedoeling van deze werkwijze is dat wel: namelijk aantonen dat in de opsomming van honderden gemeenten 'slechts' enkele tientallen gemeenten een "grotere" of "sterke" actiebereidheid vertoonden. Uitgezet op grafiek komt dat zeer overtuigend over maar wie zich de moeite geeft om dezelfde gegevens eens op een kaart te bekijken kan niet anders dan besluiten dat bepaalde streken werkelijk in vuur en vlam stonden. (3) Het zijn niet de enige zaken waarin de Gentse professor opvalt: zo ontkent hij het bestaan van enige organisatie, stelde hij op een uiteenzetting in Putte dat cijfers over de getalsterkte van het boerenleger door 10 moeten gedeeld worden en, op een andere uiteenzetting in Gent, dat het voornaamste motief voor de Boerenkrijg te vinden is in economische factoren, zijnde de terugval van de huisnijverheid op het platteland einde van de 18de eeuw en de tegenstelling platteland-stad.

EEN POGING TOT SYNTHESE

300px-Boerenkrijg.jpgToegegeven, het is niet gemakkelijk de woelige tijd van de Boerenkrijg te reconstrueren. Ongetwijfeld bevatten beide voormelde thesissen een kern van waarheid. De Boerenkrijg was een georganiseerde opstand van de plattelandsbevolking tegen het Frans imperialisme. En ja, de Boerenkrijg ontstond uit spontane woede en was een verbeten wanhoopsdaad om het tij te keren. Maar eigenlijk dringt zich een derde thesis op: Dé Boerenkrijg heeft zich nooit voorgedaan!

Op 12 oktober 1798 begaf zich een groep Franse soldaten, sansculotten (4) naar een boerderij in Overmere (Oost-Vlaanderen) waar een boer weigerde de zoveelste oorlogsbelasting te betalen. Andere bronnen spreken van een opstand van dienstplichtigen. Hoe dan ook, plaatselijke bewoners gingen de Fransen te lijf met alles wat maar op een wapen leek: vliemen, houthakkersbijlen, knuppels, dorsvlegels... Binnen de kortste keren waren de Fransen verdreven. In hun overwinningsroes trokken ze het dorp binnen, kapten de door de Fransen geplante 'vrijheidsboom' om, openden de kerkdeuren en luidden de kerkklokken. (5) Het was de aanleiding voor een opstand die reeds een maand eerder met de afkondiging van de Franse conscriptiewetten nog moeilijk te vermijden leek.

Als een lopend vuur verspreidde de opstand zich over het land. In West-Vlaanderen werd de opstand, met honderden doden in Ingelmunster en Kortrijk, na tien dagen bedwongen. In het Houtland, Waasland, Hulst, tot aan het Vlaams Hoofd voor Antwerpen, trokken de opstandelingen van dorp tot dorp. Maar de verdedigings-mogelijkheden waren in dit vlakke land beperkt en de Franse troepen konden vanuit de steden (Gent, Oostende en Doornik) gemakkelijk deze streken bestrijken. En in Hulst, dat zijn poorten opende voor de Wase Boerenkrijgers, lieten de Brigands zelfs een scheepskonvooi met een lading van 300 kanonnen zomaar voorbijvaren.

In de streek van Bornem, St-Amands, Willebroek en Hingene kon het Boerenleger onder de kundige leiding van de handelaar Emmanuel-Benedict Rollier langer weerstaan. Niet alleen was deze streek, met zijn moerassen, waterlanden en bossen, geprangd tussen enkele rivieren, beter geschikt voor een zich steeds hergroeperend leger, maar daarnaast was dat leger waarschijnlijk ook beter bewapend én getraind. Het kon beschikken over Engelse bakergeweren en Engels geld om de vrijwilligers te betalen. Maar uiteindelijk moest men ook daar zwichten voor de militaire overmacht. Bornem werd grotendeels in de as gelegd en ook elders vonden represailles plaats.

In de Antwerpse en de Limburgse Kempen wist het boerenleger zich langer te verweren. Onder leiding van de drukker Pieter Corbeels, de brouwerszoon Jozef Emmanuel Van Gansen en de jonge advokaat Eelen speelde het boerenleger, dat op een bepaald moment meer dan 5000 strijders telde, tussen Essen en Hasselt gedurende verschillende weken een kat-en-muis-spel met de Fransen. In de morgen van 5 december werd het leger in Hasselt echter verrast en definitief verslagen.

De Boerenkrijg kostte aan duizenden opstandelingen het leven. Corbeels en Meulemans werden met honderden medestanders terechtgesteld. Rollier dook onder, net als van Gansen die de rest van de Franse tijd in zijn eigen dorp overleefde.

Op verschillende plaatsen in het land smeulde de opstand nog na maar nergens kreeg hij nog de afmetingen van wat in het najaar van 1798 had plaatsgevonden. (6)

DE OORZAKEN VAN DE BOERENKRIJG

Ondanks de herhaalde bezettingen en oorlogen behoorden onze streken in de 18de eeuw tot de meest welvarende van Europa. De landbouw kende dankzij het systeem van de teeltwisseling (7) een hoge productiviteit. Er was een goed uitgebouwd net van land- en waterwegen. We kenden een hogere alfabetiseringsgraad dan in de 19de eeuw (tot 60 procent in bepaalde streken). Alle standen en regio's waren vertegenwoordigd in het politiek bestel. De vrijheden en privilegies uit de Middeleeuwen hadden hier, meer dan elders, dankzij de desinteresse van onze vreemde vorsten, kunnen standhouden.

Toen de Oostenrijkse keizer Jozef II met zijn radicale hervormingen deze toestand ongedaan probeerde te maken brak er een gewapende opstand uit (1789) die uitliep op de vorming van de Republiek der Verenigde Nederlandse Staten (République des Etats Unis de la Belgique). Eén van de (geheime) genootschappen die mee aan de basis lag van het verzet tegen de nieuwe denkbeelden van de keizer heette zeer toepasselijk "Pro Aris et Focis" ("Voor Outer en Heerd"). Daarmee duidelijk beklemtonend dat de opstand in feite draaide om het behoud van de tradities tegenover de nieuwlichterij van de keizer. (8) Onderling gekrakeel maakte echter snel een eind aan de jonge republiek. Al in 1790 wisten de Oostenrijkers hun gezag te herstellen. In 1792 marcheerden de Frans-republikeinse troepen hier voor het eerst binnen. Enkele maanden later werden ze opnieuw verdreven maar in juni 1794 behaalden ze met de slag bij Fleurus een definitieve overwinning op de Oostenrijkers. En in oktober 1795 werden de Zuidelijke Nederlanden ingelijfd bij de Franse republiek.

Boerenkrijg5-300x434.jpgDe ware aard van deze "bevrijding" onder de leuze "vrijheid, gelijkheid, broederlijkheid" werd snel duidelijk. De "nieuwe departementen" werden systematisch geplunderd. Naast deze plunderingen - het Louvre dankt er een groot deel van haar collectie aan - waren er de belastingen; de vorderingen van graan, hooi, vee en paarden; de inkwartiering van Franse soldaten bij de bevolking; de invoering van assignaten, papieren geld dat na herhaaldelijke devaluaties niets meer waard was; de vervolging van priesters die de eed van trouw aan de republiek weigerden af te leggen; de invoering van de republikeinse kalender die de jaartelling startte op 22 september 1792 en de vloer aanveegde met de traditionele feestdagen (Van de 80 dagen waarop er niet diende gewerkt te worden tijdens het "Ancien Régime" bleven er na 1795 nog amper 40 over...).

De opstand smeulde. Vertegenwoordigers van de standen die voordien in de Staten zetelden, organiseerden zich en vroegen om steun bij de vijanden van hun vijanden: de Engelsen, de Pruisen, Oostenrijk en de kringen rond de prins van Oranje die in ballingschap leefde (ook Noord-Nederland was door de Fransen onder de voet gelopen).

Afspraken werden gemaakt. De eerste ladingen geweren, de eerste financiële steun sijpelden het land binnen. Hiervan getuigen onder meer de verslagen van Franse spionnen (9). Een (begin van?) landelijke organisatie lijkt dus wel erg waarschijnlijk. Net als de samenwerking met andere mogendheden. De Engelsen patrouilleerden voor de kust en voerden regelmatig raids uit. Enkele maanden voor de Boerenkrijg uitbrak werd Oostende gebombardeerd vanuit zee. En in Vlissingen was er een mislukte landing. Op 27 oktober zou de Boerenkrijg moeten beginnen. Maar dit plan werd uiteindelijk niet gevolgd, zodat we belanden bij de thesis dat de Boerenkrijg zoals hij gepland was, nooit heeft plaatsgevonden. Reden voor het voortijdig uitbreken van de Boerenkrijg was de invoering van de dienstplicht voor alle jongemannen tussen 20 en 25 jaar, gedurende 5 jaar in vredestijd en voor onbepaalde tijd in oorlogstijd. En het was oorlog. Er was geen houden meer aan. De plattelandsbevolking greep vervroegd naar de wapens.

BETEKENIS

OuterEnHeerd-3.jpgHet is ontegensprekelijk zo dat het romantische beeld van de Boerenkrijg zoals het in de 19de eeuw is ontstaan nood had aan bijsturing. De Boerenkrijg was géén avant-première van de strijd voor Vlaamse onafhankelijkheid en was ook, in tijd en plaats, geen unieke gebeurtenis. Eerder had in onze streken onder impuls van gelijklopende motieven de Brabantse Omwenteling plaatsgevonden. Elders in Europa waren er de opstanden in de Vendée en in Süd-Tirol; de Klöppelkrieg in Luxemburg, de Chouannerie, het gewapende verzet van Charles Jacquemin de Loupoigne in Vlaams én Waals Brabant, de opstand in het departement van de Ourthe...

De Boerenkrijg past op die manier in een brede tegenbeweging die overal in Europa op gang kwam tegen de rationalisering en 'modernisering' van de samenleving. Een beweging die niet de "nieuwe" en maakbare mens als norm nam maar de gemeenschap met haar geheel aan gebruiken en tradities. En dààrin ligt ongetwijfeld de betekenis van deze en andere opstanden.

Noten:

(1) Brigand betekende zoveel als rover en was het scheldwoord waar de Franse overheid zich van bediende om opstandelingen aan te duiden.

In de literatuur heeft men het steeds over de 'Boerenkrijg' maar in feite speelden boeren slechts een bescheiden rol in deze oorlog. Het aandeel van ambachtslieden, dagloners, handelaars was minstens even groot.

(2) 'De Boerenkrijg' van Conscience (1852), 'La guerre des paysans' van August Orts (187O) en 'La Belgique sous la domination Française' van Paul Verhaegen (1924) zijn geschreven vanuit een Belgisch-unitair standpunt.

(3) Tekenend voor de werkwijze van deze Gentse professor is dat de gemeenten Menen, Moorslede, Wervik worden opgenomen in de lijst van gemeenten "zonder actiebereidheid" maar in een ander hoofdstuk lezen we dat in Menen al begin oktober pamfletten circuleerden; dat in Moorslede een grote groep Brigands verzamelde; en dat er in Wervik incidenten plaatsvonden en er "een opstand dreigde". Melsele en Kruibeke worden omschreven als gemeente met een kleine actiebereidheid terwijl ze in een ander hoofdstuk omschreven staan als centra van de Boerenkrijg in het Waasland.

(4)sansculotten: diegenen die niet de aristocratische kniebroek maar de povere pantalon, of volksbroek droegen. Buiten Frankrijk werden er de (vaak pover aangeklede) Franse soldaten mee bedoeld.

(5)De vrijheidsboom, was een linde of berk, geplant in opdracht van de republikeinse overheid als symbool van hun vrijheidsstreven. Het omhakken van de vrijheidsboom en het openbreken van de kerkdeuren was in die zin een sterk symbolisch geladen actie.

(6) In de zomer van 1799 liep de Brabantse opstandelingenleider Charles Jacquemin de Loupoigne in een Franse hinderlaag en zijn hoofd werd in Brussel op een staak tentoongesteld. Gevangengenomen Brigands werden massaal gevonnist, steden en dorpen beboet. Daarmee leek er zogoed als een eind gekomen te zijn aan de de reeks van opstanden. In de loop van 1800, Napoleon had zich intussen meester gemaakt van de macht, werden de verbanningsbesluiten t.o.v. duizenden priesters ingetrokken en keerden de meeste gevangengenomen Brigands weer naar huis.

(7) Teeltwisseling veronderstelt de totale bebouwing van het akkerland. Bij het oudere drieslagstelsel werd 1/3 van het akkerland braak gelaten opdat het niet zou uitgeput raken. Bij teeltwisseling werd er gebruik gemaakt van zgn. grondverbeteraars als rapen en klavers wat ervoor zorgde dat het vee niet meer moest gedecimeerd worden voor de voedselarme winter.

(8) Pro Aris et Focis was de geheime organisatie van de "democratische" volgelingen van Jan-Frans Vonck. Of de strijdkreet "Voor Outer en Heerd" effectief gebruikt werd tijdens de Boerenkrijg wordt door verschillende historici betwist. Volgens hen zou de slogan door 19de eeuwse schrijvers aan de Boerenkrijgers zijn toegedicht.

(9) voor het terugvinden van deze aanwijzingen over de internationale draagwijdte van de Boerenkrijg verwijzen wij graag naar het Boerenkrijgkomitee Klein-Brabant dat ondermeer de tentoonstelling in St-Amands 'Het Verzet van 1798. Van Evolutie tot Revolutie, van Zelfbestuur tot Dictatuur en van Federalisme tot Centralisme' heeft gerealiseerd. In feite vormen zij de kern van alle evenementen die zich dit jaar rond de Boerenkrijg hebben afgespeeld. De tento is reeds afgelopen, maar waarschijnlijk zij er nog (zeer uitgebreide) catalogen beschikbaar, Aan alle geïnteresseerden warm aanbevolen. Daarvoor kan u contact opnemen met dhr. Aimé De Decker, tel. nr. 052/33.41.53

Bibliografie:

FRANCOIS, L., De Boerenkrijg. Twee eeuwen feiten en fictie, Leuven 1998.

SUYKENS, A., Franse Revolutie en Boerenkrijg in Klein-Brabant, Brussel, 1948.

VOORDE, H. VAN DE (e.a.), Bastille, Boerenkrijg en Tricolore. De Franse Revolutie in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden, Leuven, 1989.

mardi, 16 juillet 2013

Stotternder Magus

Stotternder Magus

Vor 225 Jahren gestorben: Königsberger Philosoph J. G. Hamann

Ex: http://www.preussische-allgemeine.de
 

Hamann.jpgKönigsberg war im 18. Jahrhundert deutsche Hauptstadt der Philosophie. Nicht nur Kant lebte und wirkte hier, sondern auch sein Antipode Johann Georg Hamann. Während der Aufklärer Kant die reine Vernunft lehrte, verurteilte Hamann diese Lehre als gewalttätig und despotisch und predigte stattdessen die Reinheit des Herzens.


Gab es da etwa Anzeichen von Revierkämpfen? Wohl kaum. Kö­nigsberg war groß genug, um beide Denker zu verkraften, und Hamann ein zu kleines Licht, um Kant Konkurrenz zu bieten. Im Gegenteil, Kant verhalf dem mittelosen Kollegen 1767 zu einer Stelle im preußischen Staatsdienst bei der Königsberger Provinzal-Akzise und Zolldirektion. Was wie eine Strafversetzung erscheint, war für Hamann ein Glück, denn weil der am 27. August 1730 als Sohn eines Königsberger Baders und Wundarztes Geborene die Universität ohne jeden Abschluss verließ, hatte er nie – wie Kant – einen Anspruch auf einen Lehrstuhl. Im Gegensatz zu Kant war er Hobbyphilosoph, der aber dennoch von seinen Zeitgenossen wahrgenommen wurde. Goethe, der während seiner Studienzeit in Straßburg von Herder auf Hamann aufmerksam gemacht wurde, bekannte, dass ihm dessen geistige Gegenwart „immer nahe gewesen“ sei.


Für diese Anerkennung musste Hamann hart kämpfen. Nach seinem – vergeblichen – Studium der Theologie und Jurisprudenz schlug er sich als Hauslehrer im baltischen Raum durch, machte danach einige journalistische Versuche, ehe er auf Geheiß einer befreundeten Kaufmannsfamilie mit einem handelspolitischen Auftrag nach London reiste. Hier hatte der Lutheraner sein religiöses Erweckungserlebnis, indem er intensiv die Bibel studierte. Es war ein „Schlüssel zu meinem Herzen“, schrieb er.


Zurück in Königsberg blieb Hamann ein „Liebhaber der langen Weile“, von der er im Zollamt offenbar ausgiebig Gebrauch machte. Während der Dienststunden bewältigte er ein Lektürepensum, das ihn zu einem der letzten universal belesenen Polyhistoren reifen ließ. Seine Reflexionen über das Gelesene legte er in Gelegenheitsschriften und Briefen nieder, deren dunkler Redesinn oft schwer nachvollziehbar ist. Im Zentrum seines Denkens steht dabei das Verhältnis von Vernunft und Sprache. Da die menschliche Sprache mit Makeln behaftet sei, könne man mit ihrer Hilfe niemals zur höchsten Vernunft kommen. Das sokratische Nichtwissen blieb Hamanns letztes Wort.


Wer sich hier als Sprachphilosoph betätigte, hatte selbst einen Sprechfehler: Hamann stotterte sein Leben lang. So glaubte er einzig an das göttliche Wort, den Logos der Natur, in dem sich Gott offenbare. Den Stürmern und Drängern um Goethe kamen solche Gedanken gerade recht, wollten sie doch den Genie-Begriff der Aufklärer vom Sockel stoßen. Da sich Hamann bei seiner bibelfesten Argumentation wie die drei Magi aus dem Morgenland auf der Suche nach Christus begab, verlieh ihm der Darmstädter Geheimrat von Moser den ironischen Titel „Magus im Norden“.


Tatsächlich war Hamann nicht nur Wegweiser für den Sturm und Drang, sondern später auch für Philosophen wie Schelling und Kierkegaard oder Autoren wie Ernst Jünger. Einer seiner Bewunderer war auch der westfälische Landedelmann Franz Kaspar von Buchholtz, der Hamann, seine uneheliche Frau – eine Magd – und seine vier Kindern mit 4000 Reichstalern aus dem Fron beim Zollamt erlöste und ihn 1787 ins katholische Münster lotste. Nur ein Jahr später starb Hamann dort am 21. Juni 1788 – nur kurz vor einer geplanten Rückreise nach Königsberg.

Harald Tews

lundi, 20 mai 2013

The Enlightenment from a New Right Perspective

immanuel_kant_f.20101213-11.jpg

The Enlightenment from a New Right Perspective

 

By Domitius Corbulo

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

“When Kant philosophizes, say on ethical ideas, he maintains the validity of his theses for men of all times and places. He does not say this in so many words, for, for himself and his readers, it is something that goes without saying. In his aesthetics he formulates the principles, not of Phidias’s art, of Rembrandt’s art, but of Art generally. But what he poses as necessary forms of thought are in reality only necessary forms of Western thought.” — Oswald Spengler 

“Humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race.” — Immanuel Kant

Every one either praises or blames the Enlightenment for the enshrinement of equality and cosmopolitanism as the moral pillars of our times. This is wrong. Enlightenment thinkers were racists who believe that only white Europeans could be fully rational, good citizens, and true cosmopolitans.

Leftists have brought attention to some racist beliefs among Enlightenment thinkers, but they have not successfully shown that racism was an integral part of Enlightenment philosophy, and their intention has been to denigrate the Enlightenment for representing the parochial values of European males. I argue here that they were the first to introduce a scientific conception of human nature structured by racial classifications. This conception culminated in Immanuel Kant’s anthropological justification of the superior/inferior classification of “races of men” and his “critical” argument that only European peoples were capable of becoming rational and free legislators of their own actions. The Enlightenment is a celebration of white reason and morality; therefore, it belongs to the New Right.

In an essay [2] in the New York Times (February 10, 2013), Justin Smith, another leftist with a grand title, Professeur des Universités, Département d’Histoire et Philosophie des Sciences, Université Paris Diderot – Paris VII, contrasted the intellectual “legacy” of Anton Wilhelm Amo, a West African student and former slave who defended a philosophy dissertation at the University of Halle in Saxony in 1734, with the “fundamentally racist” legacy of Enlightenment thinkers. Smith observed that a dedicatory letter was attached to Amo’s dissertation from the rector of the University of Wittenberg, Johannes Kraus, praising the “natural genius” of Africa and its “inestimable contribution to the knowledge of human affairs.” Smith juxtaposed Kraus’s broad-mindedness to the prevailing Enlightenment view “lazily echoed by Hume, Kant, and so many contemporaries” according to which Africans were naturally inferior to whites and beyond the pale of modernity.

Smith questioned “the supposedly universal aspiration to liberty, equality and fraternity” of Enlightenment thought. These values were “only ever conceived” for a European people deemed to be superior and therefore more equal than non-whites. He cited Hume: “I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites.” He also cited Kant’s dismissal of a report of something intelligent that had once been uttered by an African: “this fellow was quite black from head to toe, a clear proof that what he said was stupid.” Smith asserted that it was counter-Enlightenment thinkers, such as Johann Herder, who would formulate anti-racist views in favor of human diversity. In the rest of his essay, Smith pondered why Westerners today “have chosen to stick with categories inherited from the century of the so-called Enlightenment” even though “since the mid-20th century no mainstream scientist has considered race a biologically significant category; no scientist believes any longer that ‘negroid,’ ‘caucasoid,’ and so on represent real natural kinds.” We should stop using labels that merely capture “something as trivial as skin color” and instead appreciate the legacy of Amo as much as that of any other European in a colorblind manner.

Smith’s article, which brought some 370 comments, a number from Steve Sailer, was challenged a few days later by Kenan Malik, ardent defender of the Enlightenment, in his blog Pandaemonium [3]. Malik’s argument that Enlightenment thinkers “were largely hostile to the idea of racial categorization” represents the general consensus on this question. Malik is an Indian-born English citizen, regular broadcaster at BBC, and noted writer for The GuardianFinancial TimesThe Independent, Sunday Times, New StatesmanProspectTLSThe Times Higher Education Supplement, and other venues. Once a Marxist, Malik is today a firm defender of the “universalist ideas of the Enlightenment,” freedom of speech, secularism, and scientific rationalism. He is best known for his strong opposition to multiculturalism.

Yet this staunch opponent of multiculturalism is a stauncher advocate of open door policies on immigration [4]. In one of his TV documentaries, tellingly titled Let ‘Em All In (2005), he demanded that Britain’s borders be opened to the world without restrictions. In response to a report published during the post-Olympic euphoria in Britain, “The Melting Pot Generation: How Britain became more relaxed about race [5],” he wrote: “news that those of mixed ethnicity are among the fastest-growing groups in the population is clearly to be welcomed [6].” He added that much work remains to be done “to change social perceptions of race.”

This work includes fighting against any immigration objection even from someone like David Goodhart, director of the left think tank Demos, whose just released book, The British Dream [7], modestly made the observation that immigration is eroding traditional identities and creating an England “increasingly full of mysterious and unfamiliar worlds.” In his review (The Independent [8], April 19, 2013) Malik insisted that not enough was being done to wear down the traditional identities of everyone including the native British. The solution is more immigration coupled with acculturation to the universal values of the Enlightenment. “I am hostile to multiculturalism not because I worry about immigration but because I welcome it.” The citizens of Britain must be asked to give up their ethnic and cultural individuality and make themselves into universal beings with rights equal to every newcomer.

It is essential, then, for Malik to disassociate the Enlightenment with any racist undertones. This may not seem difficult since the Enlightenment has consistently come to be seen — by all political ideologies from Left to Right — as the source of freedom, equality, and rationality against the “unreasonable and unnatural” prejudices of particular cultural groups. Malik acknowledges that in recent years some (he mentions George Mosse, Emmanuel Chuckwude Eze, and David Theo Goldberg) have blamed Enlightenment thinkers for articulating the modern idea of race and projecting a view of Europe as both culturally and racially superior. By and large, however, Malik manages (superficially speaking) to win the day arguing that the racist statements one encounters in some Enlightenment thinkers were marginally related to their overall philosophies.

A number of thinkers within the mainstream of the Enlightenment . . . dabbled with ideas of innate differences between human groups . . . Yet, with one or two exceptions, they did so only diffidently or in passing.

The botanist Carolus Linnaeus exhibited the cultural prejudices of his time when he described Europeans as “serious, very smart, inventive” and Africans as “impassive, lazy, ruled by caprice.” But let’s us not forget, Malik reasons, that Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae “is one of the landmarks of scientific thought,” the first “distinctly modern” classification of plants and animals, and of humans in rational and empirical terms as part of the natural order. The implication is that Linnaeus could not have offered a scientific classification of nature while seriously believing in racial differences. Science and race are incompatible.

Soon the more progressive ideas of Johann Blumenbach came; he complained about the prejudices of Linnaeus’ categories and called for a more objective differentiation between human groups based on skull shape and size. It is true that out of Blumenbach’s five-fold taxonomy (Caucasians, Mongolians, Ethiopians, Americans and Malays) the categories of race later emerged. But Malik insists that “it was in the 19th, not 18th, century that a racial view of the world took hold in Europe.”

Malik mentions Jonathan Israel’s argument that there were two Enlightenments, a mainstream one coming from Kant, Locke, Voltaire and Hume, and a radical one coming from “lesser known figures such as d’Holbach, Diderot, Condorcet and Spinoza.” This latter group pushed the ideas of reason, universality, and democracy “to their logical conclusion,” nurturing a radical egalitarianism extending across class, gender, and race. But, in a rather confusing way and possibly because he could not find any discussions of race in the radical group to back up his argument, Malik relies on the mainstream group. He cites David Hume: “It is universally acknowledged that there is a great uniformity among the acts of men, in all nations and ages, and that human nature remains the same in its principles and operations.” And George-Louis Buffon, the French naturalist: “Every circumstance concurs in proving that mankind is not composed of species essentially different from each other.” While Enlightenment thinkers asked why there was so much cultural variety across the globe, Malik explains, “the answer was rarely that human groups were racially distinct . . . environmental differences and accidents of history had shaped societies in different ways.” Remedying these differences and contingencies was what the Enlightenment was about; as Diderot wrote, “everywhere a people should be educated, free, and virtuous.”

Malik’s essay is pedestrian, somewhat disorganized, but in tune with the established literature, and therefore seen by the public as a compilation of truisms against marginal complaints about racism in the Enlightenment. Almost all the books on the Enlightenment have either ignored this issue or addressed it as a peripheral theme. The emphasis has been, rather, on the Enlightenment’s promotion of universal values for the peoples of the world. Let me offer some examples. Leonard Krieger’s King and Philosopher, 1689–1789 (1970) highlights the way the Enlightenment produced “works in which the universal principles of reason were invoked to order vast reaches of the human experience,” Rousseau’s “anthropological history of the human species,” Hume’s “quest for uniform principles of human nature,” “the various tendencies of the philosophes’ thinking — skepticism, rationalism, humanism, and materialism” (152-207). Peter Gay’s The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966) is altogether about how “the men of the Enlightenment united on . . . a program of secularism, humanity, cosmopolitanism, and freedom . . . In 1784, when the Enlightenment had done most of its work, Kant defined it as man’s emergence from his self-imposed tutelage, and offered as its motto: Dare to know” (3). Norman Hampson’s The Enlightenment (1968) spends more time on the proponents of modern classifications of nature, particularly Buffon’s Natural History, but makes no mention of racial classifications or arguments opposing any notion of a common humanity.

kant.jpgRecent books are hardly different. Louis Dupre’s The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture (2004), traces our current critically progressive attitudes back to the Enlightenment “ideal of human emancipation.” Dupré argues (from a perspective influenced by Jurgen Habermas) that the original project of the Enlightenment is linked to “emancipatory action” today (335). Gertrude Himmelfarb’s The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (2004), offers a neoconservative perspective of the British and the American “Enlightenments” contrasted to the more radical ideas of human perfectibility and the equality of mankind found in the French philosophes. She brings up Jefferson’s hope that in the future whites would “blend together, intermix” and become one people with the Indians (221). She quotes Madison on the “unnatural traffic” of slavery and its possible termination, and also Jefferson’s proposal that the slaves should be freed and sent abroad to colonize other lands as “free and independent people.” She implies that Jefferson thought that sending blacks abroad was the most humane solution given the “deep-rooted prejudices of whites and the memories of blacks of the injuries they had sustained” (224).

Dorinda Outram’s, The Enlightenment (1995) brings up directly the way Enlightenment thinkers responded to their encounters with very different cultures in an age characterized by extraordinary expeditions throughout the globe. She notes there “was no consensus in the Enlightenment on the definition of the races of man,” but, in a rather conjectural manner, maintains that “the idea of a universal human subject . . . could not be reconciled with seeing Negroes as inferior.” Buffon, we are safely informed, “argued that the human race was a unity.” Linnaeus divided humanity into different classificatory groups, but did so as members of the same human race, although he “was unsure whether pigmies qualified for membership of the human race.” Turgot and Condorcet believed that “human beings, by virtue of their common humanity, would all possess reason, and would gradually discard irrational superstitions” (55-8). Outram’s conclusion on this topic is typical: “The Enlightenment was trying to conceive a universal human subject, one possessed of rationality,” accordingly, it cannot be seen as a movement that stood against racial divisions (74). Roy Porter, in his exhaustively documented and opulent narrative, Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (2000), dedicates less than one page of his 600+ page book to discourses on “racial differentiation.” He mentions Lord Kames as “one of many who wrestled with the evidence of human variety . . . hinting that blacks might be related to orang-utans and similar great apes.” Apart from this quaint passage, there is only this: “debate was heated and unresolved, and there was no single Enlightenment party line” (357).

In my essay, “Enlightenment and Global History [9],” I mentioned a number of other books which view the Enlightenment as a European phenomenon and, for this reason, have been the subject of criticism by current multicultural historians who feel that this movement needs to be seen as global in origins. I defended the Eurocentrism of these books while suggesting that their view of the Enlightenment as an acclamation of universal values (comprehensible and extendable outside the European ethnic homeland) was itself accountable for the idea that its origins must not be restricted to Europe. Multicultural historians have merely carried to their logical conclusion the allegedly universal ideals of the Enlightenment. The standard interpretations of Tzvetan Todorov’s In Defence of the Enlightenment (2009), Stephen Bronner’s Reclaiming the Enlightenment (2004), and Robert Louden’s, The World We Want: How and Why the Ideals of the Enlightenment Still Eludes Us (2007), equally neglect the intense interest Enlightenment thinkers showed in the division of humanity into races. They similarly pretend that, insomuch as these thinkers spoke of “reason,” “humanity,” and “equality,” they were thinking outside or above the European experience and intellectual ancestry.

What about Justin Smith, or, since he has not published in this field, the left liberal authors on this topic? There is not that much; the two best known sources are two anthologies of writings on race, namely, Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader (1997), edited by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze; and The Idea of Race (2000), edited by Robert Bernasconi and Tommy Lott. Eze’s book gathers into a short book the most provocative writings on race by some Enlightenment thinkers (Hume, Linnaeus, Kant, Buffon, Blumenbach, Jefferson and Cuvier). This anthology, valuable as it is, is intended for effect, to show how offensively racist these thinkers were. Eze does not disprove the commonly accepted idea that Enlightenment thinkers were proponents of a universal ethos (although, as we will see below, Eze does offer elsewhere a rather acute analysis of Kant’s racism). Bernasconi’s The Idea of Race is mostly a collection of nineteenth and 20th century writings, with short excerpts from Francois Bernier, Voltaire, Kant, and Blumenbach. The books that Malik mentions (see above) which connect the Enlightenment to racism are also insufficient: George Mosse’s Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (1985) is just another book about European anti-Semitism, which directs culpability to the Enlightenment for carrying classifications and measurements of racial groups. David Goldberg’s Racist Culture (1993) is a study of the normalization of racialized discourses in the modern West in the 20th century.

There are, as we will see later, other publications which address in varying ways this topic, but, on the whole, the Enlightenment is normally seen as the most critical epoch in “mankind’s march” towards universal brotherhood. The leftist discussion of racist statements relies on the universal principles of the Enlightenment. Its goal is to uncover and challenge any idea among 18th century thinkers standing in the way of a future universal civilization. Leftist critics enjoy “exposing” white European males as racists and thereby re-appropriate the Enlightenment as their own from a cultural Marxist perspective. But what if we were to approach the racism and universalism of the Enlightenment from a New Right perspective that acknowledges straightaway the particular origins of the Enlightenment in a continent founded by Indo-European [10] speakers?

This would involve denying the automatic assumption that the ideas of the philosophes were articulated by mankind and commonly true for every culture. How can the ideas of the Enlightenment be seen as universal, representing the essence of humanity, if they were expressed only by European men? The Enlightenment is a product of Europe alone, and this fact alone contradicts its universality. Enlightenment thinkers are themselves to blame for this dilemma expressing their ideas as if “for men of all times and places.” Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), writing at the same time as Kant, did question the notion of a cosmopolitan world based on generic human values. He saw in the world the greatest possible variety of historical humans in different regions of the earth, in time and space. He formulated arguments against racial rankings not by questioning their scientific merits as much as their reduction of the diversity of humans to one matrix of measurement and judgment. It was illusory to postulate a universal philosophy for humanity in which the national character of peoples would disappear and each human on earth would “love each other and every one . . . being all equally polite, well-mannered and even-tempered . . . all philanthropic citizens of the world.”[1] Contrary to some interpretations, Herder was not rejecting the Enlightenment but subjecting it to critical evaluation from his own cosmopolitan education in the history and customs of the peoples of the earth. “Herder was among the men of the Enlightenment who were critical in their search for self-understanding; in short, he was part of the self-enlightening Enlightenment.”[2] He proposed a different universalism based on the actual variety and unique historical experiences and trajectories of each people (Volk). Every people had their own particular language, religion, songs, gestures, legends and customs. There was no common humanity but a division of peoples into language and ethnic groups. Each people were capable of achieving education and progress in its own way from its own cultural sources.

From this standpoint, the Enlightenment should be seen as an expression of a specific people, Europeans, made up of various nationalities but nevertheless in habitants of a common civilization who were actually conceiving the possibility of becoming good citizens of Europe at large. In the words of Edward Gibbon, Enlightenment philosophers were enlarging their views beyond their respective native countries “to consider Europe as a great republic, whose various inhabitants have attained almost the same level of politeness and cultivation” (in Gay, 13).

Beyond Herder, we also need to acknowledge that the Enlightenment inaugurated the study of race from a rational, empirical, and secular perspective consistent with its own principles. No one has been willing to admit this because this entire debate has been marred by the irrational, anti-Enlightenment dogma that race is a construct and that the postulation of a common humanity amounts to a view of human nature without racial distinctions. Contrary to Roy Porter, there was a party line, or, to be more precise, a consistently racial approach among Enlightenment thinkers. The same philosophes who announced that human nature was uniform everywhere, and united mankind as a subject capable of enlightenment, argued “in text after text . . . in the works of Hume, Diderot, Montesquieu, Kant, and many lesser lights” that men “are not uniform but are divided up into sexes, races, national characters . . . and many other categories” (Garret 2006). But because we have been approaching Enlightenment racism under the tutelage of our current belief that race is “a social myth” and that any division of mankind into races is based on malevolent “presumptions unsupported by available evidence [11],” we have failed to appreciate that this subject was part and parcel of what the philosophes meant by “enlightenment.” Why it is so difficult to accept the possibility that 18th century talk about “human nature” and the “unity of mankind” was less a political program for a universal civilization than a scientific program for the study of man in a way that was systematic in intent and universal in scope? It is quite legitimate, from a scientific point, to treat humans everywhere as uniformly constituted members of the same species while recognizing their racial and cultural variety across the world. Women were considered to be intrinsically different from men at the same time that they were considered to be human.

Not being an expert on the Enlightenment I found recently a book chapter titled “Human Nature” by Aaron Garrett in a two volume work, The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Philosophy [12] (2006). There is a section in this chapter dealing with “race and natural character”; it is short, 20 pages in a 1400 page work, but it is nevertheless well researched with close to 80 footnotes of mostly primary sources. One learns from these few pages that “in text after text” Enlightenment thinkers proposed a hierarchical view of the races. Mind you, Garrett is stereotypically liberal and thus writes of “the 18th century’s dubious contributions to the discussion of race,” startled by “the virulent denigrations of blacks . . . found in the works of Franklin, Raynal, Voltaire, Forster, and many others.” He also playacts the racial ideas of these works as if they were inconsistent with the scientific method, and makes the very unscientific error of assuming that there was an “apparent contradiction” with the Enlightenment’s notion of a hierarchy of races and its “vigorous attacks on the slave trade in the name of humanity.”

Just because most Enlightenment thinkers rejected polygenecism and asserted the fundamental (species) equality of humankind, it does not mean that they could not believe consistently in the hierarchical nature of the human races. There were polygenecists like Charles White who argued that blacks formed a race different from whites, and Voltaire who took some pleasure lampooning the vanity of the unity of mankind. But the prevailing view was that all races were members of the same human species, as all humans were capable of creating fertile offspring. Buffon, Cornelius de Pauw, Linnaeus, Blumenbach, Kant and others endorsed this view, and yet they distinctly ranked whites above other races.

Liberals have deliberately employed this view on the species unity of humanity in order to separate, misleadingly, the Enlightenment from any racial connotations. But Linnaeus did rank the races in their behavioral proclivities; and Buffon did argue that all the races descended from an original pair of whites, and that American Indians and Africans were degraded by their respective environmental habitats. De Pauw did say that Africans had been enfeebled in their intelligence and “disfigured” by their environment. Samuel Soemmering did conclude that blacks were intellectually inferior; Peter Camper and John Hunter did rank races in terms of their facial physiognomy. Blumenbach did emphasize the symmetrical balance of Caucasian skull features as the “most perfect.” Nevertheless, in accordance with the evidence collected at the time, all these scholars asserted the fundamental unity of mankind, monogenism, or the idea that all races have a common origin.

Garrett, seemingly unable to accept his own “in text after text” observation, repeats the standard line that Buffon’s and Blumenbach’s view, for example, on “the unity and structural similarity of races” precluded a racial conception. He generally evades racist phrases and arguments from Enlightenment thinkers, such as this one from Blumenbach: “I have allotted the first place to the Caucasian because this stock displays the most beautiful race of men” (Eze, 1997: 79). He makes no mention or almost ignores a number of other racialists [13]: Locke, Georges Cuvier, Johann Winckelmann, Diderot, Maupertuis, and Montesquieu. In the case of Kant, he says it would be “absurd” to take some “isolated remarks” he made about race as if they stood for his whole work. Kant “distinguish between character, temperament, and race in order to avoid biological determinism” for the sake of the “moral potential of the human race as a whole.”

kant-german-philosopher-from.jpgActually, Kant, the greatest thinker of the Enlightenment, “produced the most profound raciological thought of the 18th century.” These words come from Earl W. Count’s book This is Race, cited by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze in what is a rather good analysis of Kant’s racism showing that it was not marginal but deeply embedded in his philosophy. Eze’s analysis comes in a chapter, “The Color of Reason: The Idea of ‘Race’ in Kant’s Anthropology [14]” (1997). We learn that Kant elaborated his racial thinking in his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View [15] (1798); he introduced anthropology as a branch of study to the German universities together with the study of geography, and that through his career Kant offered 72 courses in Anthropology and/or Geography, more than in logic, metaphysics and moral philosophy. Although various scholars have shown interest in Kant’s anthropology, they have neglected its relation to Kant’s “pure philosophy.”

For Kant, anthropology and geography were inseparable; geography was the study of the natural conditions of the earth and of man’s physical attributes and location as part of this earth; whereas anthropology was the study of man’s soul, his psychological and moral character, as exhibited in different places on earth. In his geography Kant addressed racial classifications on the basis of physical traits such as skin color; in his anthropology he studied the internal structures of human psychology and the manner in which these internal attributes conditioned humans as moral and rational beings.

Kant believed that human beings were different from other natural beings in their capacity for consciousness and agency. Humans were naturally capable of experiencing themselves as self-reflecting egos capable of acting morally on the basis of their own self-generated norms (beyond the determinism which conditioned all other beings in the universe). It is part of our internal human nature to think and will as persons with moral agency. This uniquely human attribute is what allows humans to transcend the dictates of nature insofar as they are able to articulate norms as commandments for their own actions freed from unconscious physical contingencies and particular customs. As rational beings, humans are capable of creating a realm of ends, and these ends are a priori principles derived not from the study of geography and anthropology but from the internal structures of the mind, transcendental reason. What Kant means by “critical reason” is the ability of humans through the use of their minds to subject everything (bodily desires, empirical reality, and customs) to the judgments of values generated by the mind, such that the mind (reason) is the author of its own moral actions.

However, it was Kant’s estimation that his geographical and anthropological studies gave his moral philosophy an empirical grounding. This grounding consisted in the acquisition of knowledge about human beings “throughout the world,” to use Kant’s words, “from the point of view of the variety of their natural properties and the differences in that feature of the human which is moral in character.”[3] [16] Kant was the first thinker to sketch out a geographical and psychological (or anthropological) classification of humans. He classified humans naturally and racially into white (European), yellow (Asians), black (Africans) and red (American Indians). He also classified them psychologically and morally in terms of the mores, customs and aesthetic feelings held collectively by each of the races. Non-Europeans held unreflective mores and customs devoid of critical examination “because these people,” in the words of Eze, “lack the capacity for development of ‘character,’ and they lack character presumably because they lack adequate self-consciousness and rational will.” Within Kant’s psychological classification, non-Europeans “appear to be incapable of moral maturity because they lack ‘talent,’ which is a ‘gift’ of nature.” Eze quotes Kant: “the difference in natural gifts between various nations cannot be completely explained by means of causal [external, physical, climatic] causes but rather must lie in the [moral] nature of man.” The differences among races are permanent and transcend environmental factors. “The race of the American cannot be educated. It has no motivating force; for it lacks affect and passion . . . They hardly speak, do not caress each other, care about nothing and are lazy.” “The race of the Negroes . . .  is completely the opposite of the Americans; they are full of affect and passion, very lively, talkative and vain. They can be educated but only as servants . . . ” The Hindus “have a strong degree of passivity and all look like philosophers. They thus can be educated to the highest degree but only in the arts and not in the sciences. They can never arise to the level of abstract concepts . . . The Hindus always stay the way they are, they can never advance, although they began their education much earlier.”

Eze then explains that for Kant only “white” Europeans are educable and capable of progress in the arts and sciences. They are the “ideal model of universal humanity.” In other words, only the European exhibits the distinctly human capacity to behave as a rational creature in terms of “what he himself is willing to make himself” through his own ends. He is the only moral character consciously free to choose his own ends over and above the determinism of external nature and of unreflectively held customs. Eze, a Nigerian born academic, obviously criticizes Kant’s racism, citing and analyzing additional passages, including ones in which Kant states that non-Europeans lack “true” aesthetic feelings. He claims that Kant transcendentally hypostasized his concept of race simply on the basis of his belief that skin color by itself stands for the presence or absence of the natural ‘gift’ of talent and moral ‘character’. He says that Kant’s sources of information on non-European customs were travel books and stories he heard in Konigsberg, which was a bustling international seaport. Yet, this does not mean that he was simply “recycling ethnic stereotypes and prejudices.” Kant was, in Eze’s estimation, seriously proposing an anthropological and a geographical knowledge of the world as the empirical presupposition of his critical philosophy.

With the publication of this paper (and others in recent times) it has become ever harder to designate Kant’s thinking on race as marginal. Thomas Hill and Bernard Boxill dedicated a chapter, “Kant and Race [17],” to Eze’s paper in which they not only accepted that Kant expressed racist beliefs, but also that Eze was successful “in showing that Kant saw his racial theory as a serious philosophical project.” But Hill and Boxill counter that Kant’s philosophy should not be seen to be inherently “infected with racism . . . provided it is suitably supplemented with realistic awareness of the facts about racism and purged from association with certain false empirical beliefs.” These two liberals, however, think they have no obligation to provide their readers with one single fact proving that the races are equal. They don’t even mention a source in their favor such as Stephen J. Gould [18]. They take it as a given that no one has seriously challenged the liberal view of race but indeed assume that such a challenge would be racist ipso facto and therefore empirically unacceptable. They then excuse Kant on grounds that the evidence available in his time supported his claims; but that it would be racist today to make his claims for one would be “culpable” of neglecting the evidence that now disproves racial classifications. What evidence [19]?

They then argue that “racist attitudes are incompatible with Kant’s basic principle of respect for humanity in each person,” and in this vein refer to Kant’s denunciation, in his words, of the “wars, famine, insurrection, treachery and the whole litany of evils” which afflicted the peoples of the world who experience the “great injustice of the European powers in their conquests.” But why do liberals always assume that claims about racial differences constitute a call for the conquest and enslavement of non-whites? They forget the 100 million killed in Russia and China, or, conversely, the fact that most Enlightenment racists were opponents of the slave trade. The bottom logic of the Hill-Boxill counterargument is that Kant’s critical philosophy was/is intrinsically incompatible with any racial hierarchies which violate the principles of human freedom and dignity, even if his racism was deeply embedded in his philosophy. But it is not; and may well be the other way around; Kant’s belief in human perfectibility, the complete development of moral agency and rational freedom, may be seen as intrinsically in favor of a hierarchical way of thinking in terms of which race is the standard bearer of the ideal of a free and rational humanity.

It is quite revealing that an expert like Garrett, and the standard interpreters of the Enlightenment generally, including your highness Doctor Habermas, would ignore Kant’s anthropology. A recent essay by Stuart Elden, “Reassessing Kant’s geography [20]” (2009), examines the state of this debate, noting that Kant’s geography and anthropology are still glaringly neglected in most newer works on Kant. One reason for this, Elden believes, “is that philosophers have, by and large, not known what to make of the works.” I would specify that they don’t know what to make of Kant’s racism in light of the widely accepted view that he was a liberal progenitor of human equality and cosmopolitanism. Even Elden does not know what to make of this racism, though he brings attention to some recent efforts to incorporate fully Kant’s anthropology/geography into his overall philosophy, works by Robert Louden, Kant’s Impure Ethics (2000); John Zammito, Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology (2002), and Holly Wilson, Kant’s Pragmatic Anthropology (2006). Elden pairs off these standard (pro-Enlightenment, pro-Kant) works against the writings of leftist critics who have shown less misgivings designating Kant a racist. All of these works (leftists as well) are tainted by their unenlightened acceptance of human equality and universalism. They cannot come to terms with a Kant who proposed a critical philosophy only for the European race.

There is no space here for details; some of the main points these authors make are: Kant’s anthropology and geography lectures were part of Kant’s critical philosophy, “devoted to trying to enlighten his students more about the people and world around them in order that they might live (pragmatically as well as morally) better lives” (Louden, p. 65). The aim of these lectures, says Wilson, on the cultures and geography of the world was “to civilize young students to become ‘citizens of the world’” (p. 8). Kant was a humane teacher who cared for his students and expected them to become cognizant of the world and in this way acquire prudence and wisdom. “Kant explicitly argues that the anthropology is a type of cosmopolitan philosophy,” writes Wilson, intended to educate students to develop their rational powers so they could think for themselves and thus be free to actualize their full human potentiality (5, 115). This sounds very pleasant yet based on the infantile notion that knowledge of the world and cosmopolitanism, wisdom and prudence, are incompatible with a racial understanding. To the contrary, if Kant’s racial observations were consistent with the available evidence at the time, and if masses of new evidence have accumulated since validating his views, then a critical and worldly philosophy would require us to show understanding towards Kant’s racism, which does not mean one has to accept the subjective impressionistic descriptions Kant uses. Hiding from students the research of Philippe Rushton, Richard Lynn, Charles Murray, Arthur Jensen, among others, would negate their ability to become free enlightened thinkers.

Elden brings the writings of Bernasconi and David Harvey, agreeing with them that Kant played “a crucial role in establishing the term ‘race’ as the currency within which discussions of human variety would be conducted in the 19th century.” He agrees too that Kant’s racism is “deeply problematic” to his cosmopolitanism, and that earlier responses by Kantians to swept aside his racism as “irrelevant” or “not to be taken seriously” are inadequate. Elden thinks however that scholars like Louden and Wilson have risen to the leftist challenge. But what we get from Louden is the same supposition that Kant’s philosophy can be made to meet the requirements of humanitarianism and egalitarianism simply by discarding the racist components. This constitutes a confounding of the actual Enlightenment (and the authentic Kant) with our current cultural Marxist wish to create a progressive global civilization. Louden even makes the rather doleful argument that Kant’s monogenetic view of the races, the idea that all humans originated from a common ancestor, “help us reach our collective destiny.” Kant’s monogenetic view is not an adequate way to show that he believed in a common humanity. The monogenetic view is not only consistent with the eventual differentiation of this common species into unequal races due to migration to different environments, but it is also the case that Kant specifically rejected Buffon’s claim that racial differences could be reversed with the eventual adaptation of “inferior” races to climates and environments that would induce “superior” traits; Kant insisted that the differences among races were fixed and irreversible regardless of future adaptations to different environmental settings. Louden’s additional defense of Kant by noting that he believed that all members of the human species can cultivate, civilize, and moralize themselves does not invalidate Kant’s view that whites are the model of a universal humanity.

So many otherwise intelligent scholars have willfully misled themselves into believing that Enlightenment thinkers were promoters of egalitarianism and a race-less cosmopolitan public sphere. We do live in a time of major deceptions at the highest levels of Western intellectual culture. We are continually reminded that the central idea in Kant’s conception of enlightenment is that of “submitting all claims to authority to the free examination of reason.”[4] [21] Yet the very ideals of the Enlightenment have been misused to preclude anyone from examining freely and rationally the question of race differences even to the point that admirers of the Enlightenment have been engaged in a ubiquitous campaign to hide, twist beyond clarity, and confound what Enlightenment thinkers themselves said about such differences. White nationalists should no longer accept the standard interpretation of the Enlightenment. They should embrace the Enlightenment and Kant as their own.

Notes

[1] Gurutz Jáuregui Bereciartu, Decline of the Nation State (1986), p. 26.

[2] Hans Adler and Ernest Menze, Eds. “Introduction,” in On World History, Johan Gottfried Herder: An Anthology (1997): p. 5

[3] These words are cited in Stuart Elden’s “Reassessing Kant’s geography,” Journal of Historical Geography (2009), a paper I discuss later.

[4] Perpetual Peace. Essays on Kant’s Cosmopolitan Ideal, eds. Johan Bohman and Mathias Lutz Bachman. The MIT Press, 1997.

 


 

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

 

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/05/the-enlightenment-from-a-new-right-perspective/

 

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Kant_Portrait.jpeg

[2] essay: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/why-has-race-survived/

[3] Pandaemonium: http://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/on-the-enlightenments-race-problem/

[4] open door policies on immigration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenan_Malik

[5] The Melting Pot Generation: How Britain became more relaxed about race: http://www.britishfuture.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/The-melting-pot-generation.pdf

[6] welcomed: http://www.britishfuture.org/blog/mixed-britain-will-the-census-results-change-the-way-we-think-and-talk-about-race/

[7] The British Dream: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1843548054/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=1843548054&linkCode=as2&tag=kenanmalikcom-21

[8] The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-british-dream-by-david-goodhart-8578883.html

[9] Enlightenment and Global History: http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/04/enlightenment-and-global-history/

[10] Indo-European: http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2012/12/where-is-the-historical-west-part-1-of-5/

[11] presumptions unsupported by available evidence: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism

[12] The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Philosophy: http://www.amazon.com/Cambridge-History-Eighteenth-Century-Philosophy-Haakonssen/dp/0521418542

[13] other racialists: http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/foutz-racism.shtml

[14] The Color of Reason: The Idea of ‘Race’ in Kant’s Anthropology: http://books.google.ca/books?id=moH_07971gwC&pg=PA200&lpg=PA200&dq=%E2%80%9CThe+Color+of+Reason:+The+Idea+of+%E2%80%98Race%E2%80%99+in+Kant%E2%80%99s+Anthropology%E2%80%9D&source=bl&ots=Q9-oKv3Wks&sig=QDcpHumNboU6TrfmWYfZCdjPyss&hl=en&sa=X&ei=rHSOUbebCNWz4AP87YCwDA&sqi=2&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9CThe%20Color%20of%20Reason%3A%20The%20Idea%20of%20%E2%80%98Race%E2%80%99%20in%20Kant%E2%80%99s%20Anthropology%E2%80%9D&f=false

[15] Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View: http://books.google.ca/books/about/Kant_Anthropology_from_a_Pragmatic_Point.html?id=MuS6WI_7xeYC&redir_esc=y

[16] [3]: http://www.counter-currents.comfile:///C:/Users/Owner/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/Temporary%20Internet%20Files/Content.IE5/F9Q4VNXE/The%20Enlightenment%20from%20a%20New%20Right%20Perspective%20(1).rtf#_ftn3

[17] Kant and Race: http://www.faculty.umb.edu/lawrence_blum/courses/465_11/readings/Race_and_Racism.pdf

[18] Stephen J. Gould: http://menghusblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/stephen-jay-gould-myth-and-fraud/

[19] What evidence: http://www.jehsmith.com/philosophy/2008/09/phil-498629-rac.html

[20] Reassessing Kant’s geography: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305748808000613

[21] [4]: http://www.counter-currents.comfile:///C:/Users/Owner/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/Temporary%20Internet%20Files/Content.IE5/F9Q4VNXE/The%20Enlightenment%20from%20a%20New%20Right%20Perspective%20(1).rtf#_ftn4

 

mercredi, 09 janvier 2013

Le roman de Charette

Philippe de Villiers:

le roman de Charette

 9782226244215.jpg

« Combattu souvent, battu parfois, abattu jamais » : la vie de François-Athanase Charette de la Contrie est à l’image de sa devise. Vendéen comme lui, Philippe de Villiers nourrit depuis longtemps un attachement tout particulier pour ce héros dont le destin fait écho à sa propre histoire familiale. Au point de s’identifier à lui et de ressusciter, sous forme de mémoires imaginaires, la vie aventureuse de cet homme aussi séduisant qu’intrépide, fidèle envers et contre tout à une cause : « la Patrie, la Foi, le Roi ».

De sa brillante carrière dans la Marine royale, intégrée à l’âge de quatorze ans, à ce jour de 1793 où, à la tête d’une troupe de paysans du Marais breton, Charette part à l’assaut de la République, Philippe de Villiers ressuscite la flamboyante épopée d’un homme dont l’audace et le courage, la personnalité singulièrement libre et moderne, n’ont pas fini de fasciner.

Le roman de Charette, Philippe de Villiers, Albin Michel, 2012, 480 pages, 22,00 €.

lundi, 09 juillet 2012

Augustin Cochin on the French Revolution

aaaacochin.jpg

From Salon to Guillotine
Augustin Cochin on the French Revolution

By F. Roger Devlin

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

Augustin Cochin
Organizing the Revolution: Selections From Augustin Cochin [2]
Translated by Nancy Derr Polin with a Preface by Claude Polin
Rockford, Ill.: Chronicles Press, 2007

The Rockford Institute’s publication of Organizing the Revolution marks the first appearance in our language of an historian whose insights apply not only to the French Revolution but to much of modern politics as well.

Augustin Cochin (1876–1916) was born into a family that had distinguished itself for three generations in the antiliberal “Social Catholicism” movement. He studied at the Ecole des Chartes and began to specialize in the study of the Revolution in 1903. Drafted in 1914 and wounded four times, he continued his researches during periods of convalescence. But he always requested to be returned to the front, where he was killed on July 8, 1916 at the age of thirty-nine.

Cochin was a philosophical historian in an era peculiarly unable to appreciate that rare talent. He was trained in the supposedly “scientific” methods of research formalized in his day under the influence of positivism, and was in fact an irreproachably patient and thorough investigator of primary archives. Yet he never succumbed to the prevailing notion that facts and documents would tell their own story in the absence of a human historian’s empathy and imagination. He always bore in mind that the goal of historical research was a distinctive type of understanding.

Both his archival and his interpretive labors were dedicated to elucidating the development of Jacobinism, in which he (rightly) saw the central, defining feature of the French Revolution. François Furet wrote: “his approach to the problem of Jacobinism is so original that it has been either not understood or buried, or both.”[1]

Most of his work appeared only posthumously. His one finished book is a detailed study of the first phase of the Revolution as it played out in Brittany: it was published in 1925 by his collaborator Charles Charpentier. He had also prepared (with Charpentier) a complete collection of the decrees of the revolutionary government (August 23, 1793–July 27, 1794). His mother arranged for the publication of two volumes of theoretical writings: The Philosophical Societies and Modern Democracy (1921), a collection of lectures and articles; and The Revolution and Free Thought (1924), an unfinished work of interpretation. These met with reviews ranging from the hostile to the uncomprehending to the dismissive.

“Revisionist” historian François Furet led a revival of interest in Cochin during the late 1970s, making him the subject of a long and appreciative chapter in his important study Interpreting the French Revolution and putting him on a par with Tocqueville. Cochin’s two volumes of theoretical writings were reprinted shortly thereafter by Copernic, a French publisher associated with GRECE and the “nouvelle droit.”

The book under review consists of selections in English from these volumes. The editor and translator may be said to have succeeded in their announced aim: “to present his unfinished writings in a clear and coherent form.”

Between the death of the pioneering antirevolutionary historian Hippolyte Taine in 1893 and the rise of “revisionism” in the 1960s, study of the French Revolution was dominated by a series of Jacobin sympathizers: Aulard, Mathiez, Lefevre, Soboul. During the years Cochin was producing his work, much public attention was directed to polemical exchanges between Aulard, a devotee of Danton, and his former student Mathiez, who had become a disciple of Robespierre. Both men remained largely oblivious to the vast ocean of assumptions they shared.

Cochin published a critique of Aulard and his methods in 1909; an abridged version of this piece is included in the volume under review. Aulard’s principal theme was that the revolutionary government had been driven to act as it did by circumstance:

This argument [writes Cochin] tends to prove that the ideas and sentiments of the men of ’93 had nothing abnormal in themselves, and if their deeds shock us it is because we forget their perils, the circumstances; [and that] any man with common sense and a heart would have acted as they did in their place. Aulard allows this apology to include even the very last acts of the Terror. Thus we see that the Prussian invasion caused the massacre of the priests of the Abbey, the victories of la Rochejacquelein [in the Vendée uprising] caused the Girondins to be guillotined, [etc.]. In short, to read Aulard, the Revolutionary government appears a mere makeshift rudder in a storm, “a wartime expedient.” (p. 49)

Aulard had been strongly influenced by positivism, and believed that the most accurate historiography would result from staying as close as possible to documents of the period; he is said to have conducted more extensive archival research than any previous historian of the Revolution. But Cochin questioned whether such a return to the sources would necessarily produce truer history:

Mr. Aulard’s sources—minutes of meetings, official reports, newspapers, patriotic pamphlets—are written by patriots [i.e., revolutionaries], and mostly for the public. He was to find the argument of defense highlighted throughout these documents. In his hands he had a ready-made history of the Revolution, presenting—beside each of the acts of “the people,” from the September massacres to the law of Prairial—a ready-made explanation. And it is this history he has written. (p. 65)

aaaaacochinmeccannicca.gifIn fact, says Cochin, justification in terms of “public safety” or “self- defense” is an intrinsic characteristic of democratic governance, and quite independent of circumstance:

When the acts of a popular power attain a certain degree of arbitrariness and become oppressive, they are always presented as acts of self-defense and public safety. Public safety is the necessary fiction in democracy, as divine right is under an authoritarian regime. [The argument for defense] appeared with democracy itself. As early as July 28, 1789 [i.e., two weeks after the storming of the Bastille] one of the leaders of the party of freedom proposed to establish a search committee, later called “general safety,” that would be able to violate the privacy of letters and lock people up without hearing their defense. (pp. 62–63)

(Americans of the “War on Terror” era, take note.)

But in fact, says Cochin, the appeal to defense is nearly everywhere a post facto rationalization rather than a real motive:

Why were the priests persecuted at Auch? Because they were plotting, claims the “public voice.” Why were they not persecuted in Chartes? Because they behaved well there.

How often can we not turn this argument around?

Why did the people in Auch (the Jacobins, who controlled publicity) say the priests were plotting? Because the people (the Jacobins) were persecuting them. Why did no one say so in Chartes? Because they were left alone there.

In 1794 put a true Jacobin in Caen, and a moderate in Arras, and you could be sure by the next day that the aristocracy of Caen, peaceable up till then, would have “raised their haughty heads,” and in Arras they would go home. (p. 67)

In other words, Aulard’s “objective” method of staying close to contemporary documents does not scrape off a superfluous layer of interpretation and put us directly in touch with raw fact—it merely takes the self-understanding of the revolutionaries at face value, surely the most naïve style of interpretation imaginable. Cochin concludes his critique of Aulard with a backhanded compliment, calling him “a master of Jacobin orthodoxy. With him we are sure we have the ‘patriotic’ version. And for this reason his work will no doubt remain useful and consulted” (p. 74). Cochin could not have foreseen that the reading public would be subjected to another half century of the same thing, fitted out with ever more “original documentary research” and flavored with ever increasing doses of Marxism.

But rather than attending further to these methodological squabbles, let us consider how Cochin can help us understand the French Revolution and the “progressive” politics it continues to inspire.

It has always been easy for critics to rehearse the Revolution’s atrocities: the prison massacres, the suppression of the Vendée, the Law of Suspects, noyades and guillotines. The greatest atrocities of the 1790s from a strictly humanitarian point of view, however, occurred in Poland, and some of these were actually counter-revolutionary reprisals. The perennial fascination of the French Revolution lies not so much in the extent of its cruelties and injustices, which the Caligulas and Genghis Khans of history may occasionally have equaled, but in the sense that revolutionary tyranny was something different in kind, something uncanny and unprecedented. Tocqueville wrote of

something special about the sickness of the French Revolution which I sense without being able to describe. My spirit flags from the effort to gain a clear picture of this object and to find the means of describing it fairly. Independently of everything that is comprehensible in the French Revolution there is something that remains inexplicable.

Part of the weird quality of the Revolution was that it claimed, unlike Genghis and his ilk, to be massacring in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity. But a deeper mystery which has fascinated even its enemies is the contrast between its vast size and force and the negligible ability of its apparent “leaders” to unleash or control it: the men do not measure up to the events. For Joseph de Maistre the explanation could only be the direct working of Divine Providence; none but the Almighty could have brought about so great a cataclysm by means of such contemptible characters. For Augustin Barruel it was proof of a vast, hidden conspiracy (his ideas have a good claim to constitute the world’s original “conspiracy theory”). Taine invoked a “Jacobin psychology” compounded of abstraction, fanaticism, and opportunism.

Cochin found all these notions of his antirevolutionary predecessors unsatisfying. Though Catholic by religion and family background, he quite properly never appeals to Divine Providence in his scholarly work to explain events (p. 71). He also saw that the revolutionaries were too fanatical and disciplined to be mere conspirators bent on plunder (pp. 56–58; 121–122; 154). Nor is an appeal to the psychology of the individual Jacobin useful as an explanation of the Revolution: this psychology is itself precisely what the historian must try to explain (pp. 60–61).

Cochin viewed Jacobinism not primarily as an ideology but as a form of society with its own inherent rules and constraints independent of the desires and intentions of its members. This central intuition—the importance of attending to the social formation in which revolutionary ideology and practice were elaborated as much as to ideology, events, or leaders themselves—distinguishes his work from all previous writing on the Revolution and was the guiding principle of his archival research. He even saw himself as a sociologist, and had an interest in Durkheim unusual for someone of his Catholic traditionalist background.

The term he employs for the type of association he is interested in is société de pensée, literally “thought-society,” but commonly translated “philosophical society.” He defines it as “an association founded without any other object than to elicit through discussion, to set by vote, to spread by correspondence—in a word, merely to express—the common opinion of its members. It is the organ of [public] opinion reduced to its function as an organ” (p. 139).

It is no trivial circumstance when such societies proliferate through the length and breadth of a large kingdom. Speaking generally, men are either born into associations (e.g., families, villages, nations) or form them in order to accomplish practical ends (e.g., trade unions, schools, armies). Why were associations of mere opinion thriving so luxuriously in France on the eve of the Revolution? Cochin does not really attempt to explain the origin of the phenomenon he analyzes, but a brief historical review may at least clarify for my readers the setting in which these unusual societies emerged.

About the middle of the seventeenth century, during the minority of Louis XIV, the French nobility staged a clumsy and disorganized revolt in an attempt to reverse the long decline of their political fortunes. At one point, the ten year old King had to flee for his life. When he came of age, Louis put a high priority upon ensuring that such a thing could never happen again. The means he chose was to buy the nobility off. They were relieved of the obligations traditionally connected with their ancestral estates and encouraged to reside in Versailles under his watchful eye; yet they retained full exemption from the ruinous taxation that he inflicted upon the rest of the kingdom. This succeeded in heading off further revolt, but also established a permanent, sizeable class of persons with a great deal of wealth, no social function, and nothing much to do with themselves.

The salon became the central institution of French life. Men and women of leisure met for gossip, dalliance, witty badinage, personal (not political) intrigue, and discussion of the latest books and plays and the events of the day. Refinement of taste and the social graces reached an unusual pitch. It was this cultivated leisure class which provided both setting and audience for the literary works of the grand siècle.

The common social currency of the age was talk: outside Jewish yeshivas, the world had probably never beheld a society with a higher ratio of talk to action. A small deed, such as Montgolfier’s ascent in a hot air balloon, could provide matter for three years of self-contented chatter in the salons.

Versailles was the epicenter of this world; Paris imitated Versailles; larger provincial cities imitated Paris. Eventually there was no town left in the realm without persons ambitious of imitating the manners of the Court and devoted to cultivating and discussing whatever had passed out of fashion in the capital two years earlier. Families of the rising middle class, as soon as they had means to enjoy a bit of leisure, aspired to become a part of salon society.

Toward the middle of the eighteenth century a shift in both subject matter and tone came over this world of elegant discourse. The traditional saloniste gave way to the philosophe, an armchair statesman who, despite his lack of real responsibilities, focused on public affairs and took himself and his talk with extreme seriousness. In Cochin’s words: “mockery replaced gaiety, and politics pleasure; the game became a career, the festivity a ceremony, the clique the Republic of Letters” (p. 38). Excluding men of leisure from participation in public life, as Louis XIV and his successors had done, failed to extinguish ambition from their hearts. Perhaps in part by way of compensation, the philosophes gradually

created an ideal republic alongside and in the image of the real one, with its own constitution, its magistrates, its common people, its honors and its battles. There they studied the same problems—political, economic, etc.—and there they discussed agriculture, art, ethics, law, etc. There they debated the issues of the day and judged the officeholders. In short, this little State was the exact image of the larger one with only one difference—it was not real. Its citizens had neither direct interest nor responsible involvement in the affairs they discussed. Their decrees were only wishes, their battles conversations, their studies games. It was the city of thought. That was its essential characteristic, the one both initiates and outsiders forgot first, because it went without saying. (pp. 123–24)

Part of the point of a philosophical society was this very seclusion from reality. Men from various walks of life—clergymen, officers, bankers—could forget their daily concerns and normal social identities to converse as equals in an imaginary world of “free thought”: free, that is, from attachments, obligations, responsibilities, and any possibility of failure.

In the years leading up to the Revolution, countless such organizations vied for followers and influence: Amis Réunis, Philalèthes, Chevaliers Bienfaisants, Amis de la Verité, several species of Freemasons, academies, literary and patriotic societies, schools, cultural associations and even agricultural societies—all barely dissimulating the same utopian political spirit (“philosophy”) behind official pretenses of knowledge, charity, or pleasure. They “were all more or less connected to one another and associated with those in Paris. Constant debates, elections, delegations, correspondence, and intrigue took place in their midst, and a veritable public life developed through them” (p. 124).

Because of the speculative character of the whole enterprise, the philosophes’ ideas could not be verified through action. Consequently, the societies developed criteria of their own, independent of the standards of validity that applied in the world outside:

Whereas in the real world the arbiter of any notion is practical testing and its goal what it actually achieves, in this world the arbiter is the opinion of others and its aim their approval. That is real which others see, that true which they say, that good of which they approve. Thus the natural order is reversed: opinion here is the cause and not, as in real life, the effect. (p. 39)

Many matters of deepest concern to ordinary men naturally got left out of discussion: “You know how difficult it is in mere conversation to mention faith or feeling,” remarks Cochin (p. 40; cf. p. 145). The long chains of reasoning at once complex and systematic which mark genuine philosophy—and are produced by the stubborn and usually solitary labors of exceptional men—also have no chance of success in a society of philosophes (p. 143). Instead, a premium gets placed on what can be easily expressed and communicated, which produces a lowest-common-denominator effect (p. 141).

aaaacochin socpense.jpg

The philosophes made a virtue of viewing the world surrounding them objectively and disinterestedly. Cochin finds an important clue to this mentality in a stock character of eighteenth-century literature: the “ingenuous man.” Montesquieu invented him as a vehicle for satire in the Persian Letters: an emissary from the King of Persia sending witty letters home describing the queer customs of Frenchmen. The idea caught on and eventually became a new ideal for every enlightened mind to aspire to. Cochin calls it “philosophical savagery”:

Imagine an eighteenth-century Frenchman who possesses all the material attainments of the civilization of his time—cultivation, education, knowledge, and taste—but without any of the real well-springs, the instincts and beliefs that have created and breathed life into all this, that have given their reason for these customs and their use for these resources. Drop him into this world of which he possesses everything except the essential, the spirit, and he will see and know everything but understand nothing. Everything shocks him. Everything appears illogical and ridiculous to him. It is even by this incomprehension that intelligence is measured among savages. (p. 43; cf. p. 148)

In other words, the eighteenth-century philosophes were the original “deracinated intellectuals.” They rejected as “superstitions” and “prejudices” the core beliefs and practices of the surrounding society, the end result of a long process of refining and testing by men through countless generations of practical endeavor. In effect, they created in France what a contributor to this journal has termed a “culture of critique”—an intellectual milieu marked by hostility to the life of the nation in which its participants were living. (It would be difficult, however, to argue a significant sociobiological basis in the French version.)

This gradual withdrawal from the real world is what historians refer to as the development of the Enlightenment. Cochin calls it an “automatic purging” or “fermentation.” It is not a rational progression like the stages in an argument, however much the philosophes may have spoken of their devotion to “Reason”; it is a mechanical process which consists of “eliminating the real world in the mind instead of reducing the unintelligible in the object” (p. 42). Each stage produces a more rarified doctrine and human type, just as each elevation on a mountain slope produces its own kind of vegetation. The end result is the world’s original “herd of independent minds,” a phenomenon which would have horrified even men such as Montesquieu and Voltaire who had characterized the first societies.

It is interesting to note that, like our own multiculturalists, many of the philosophes attempted to compensate for their estrangement from the living traditions of French civilization by a fascination with foreign laws and customs. Cochin aptly compares civilization to a living plant which slowly grows “in the bedrock of experience under the rays of faith,” and likens this sort of philosophe to a child mindlessly plucking the blossoms from every plant he comes across in order to decorate his own sandbox (pp. 43–44).

Accompanying the natural “fermentation” of enlightened doctrine, a process of selection also occurs in the membership of the societies. Certain men are simply more suited to the sort of empty talking that goes on there:

young men because of their age; men of law, letters or discourse because of their profession; the skeptics because of their convictions; the vain because of their temperament; the superficial because of their [poor] education. These people take to it and profit by it, for it leads to a career that the world here below does not offer them, a world in which their deficiencies become strengths. On the other hand, true, sincere minds with a penchant for the concrete, for efficacy rather than opinion, find themselves disoriented and gradually drift away. (pp. 40–41)

In a word, the glib drive out the wise.

The societies gradually acquired an openly partisan character: whoever agreed with their views, however stupid, was considered “enlightened.” By 1776, d’Alembert acknowledged this frankly, writing to Frederick the Great: “We are doing what we can to fill the vacant positions in the Académie française in the manner of the banquet of the master of the household in the Gospel: with the crippled and lame men of literature” (p. 35). Mediocrities such as Mably, Helvétius, d’Holbach, Condorcet, and Raynal, whose works Cochin calls “deserts of insipid prose” were accounted ornaments of their age. The philosophical societies functioned like hired clappers making a success of a bad play (p. 46).

On the other hand, all who did not belong to the “philosophical” party were subjected to a “dry terror”:

Prior to the bloody Terror of ’93, in the Republic of Letters there was, from 1765 to 1780, a dry terror of which the Encyclopedia was the Committee of Public Safety and d’Alembert was the Robespierre. It mowed down reputations as the other chopped off heads: its guillotine was defamation, “infamy” as it was then called: The term, originating with Voltaire [écrasez l’infâme!], was used in the provincial societies with legal precision. “To brand with infamy” was a well-defined operation consisting of investigation, discussion, judgment, and finally execution, which meant the public sentence of “contempt.” (p. 36; cf. p. 123)

Having said something of the thought and behavioral tendencies of the philosophes, let us turn to the manner in which their societies were constituted—which, as we have noted, Cochin considered the essential point. We shall find that they possess in effect two constitutions. One is the original and ostensible arrangement, which our author characterizes as “the democratic principle itself, in its principle and purity” (p. 137). But another pattern of governance gradually takes shape within them, hidden from most of the members themselves. This second, unacknowledged constitution is what allows the societies to operate effectively, even as it contradicts the original “democratic” ideal.

The ostensible form of the philosophical society is direct democracy. All members are free and equal; no one is forced to yield to anyone else; no one speaks on behalf of anyone else; everyone’s will is accomplished. Rousseau developed the principles of such a society in his Social Contract. He was less concerned with the glaringly obvious practical difficulties of such an arrangement than with the question of legitimacy. He did not ask: “How could perfect democracy function and endure in the real word?” but rather: “What must a society whose aim is the common good do to be founded lawfully?”

Accordingly, Rousseau spoke dismissively of the representative institutions of Britain, so admired by Montesquieu and Voltaire. The British, he said, are free only when casting their ballots; during the entire time between elections there are as enslaved as the subjects of the Great Turk. Sovereignty by its very nature cannot be delegated, he declared; the People, to whom it rightfully belongs, must exercise it both directly and continuously. From this notion of a free and egalitarian society acting in concert emerges a new conception of law not as a fixed principle but as the general will of the members at a given moment.

Rousseau explicitly states that the general will does not mean the will of the majority as determined by vote; voting he speaks of slightingly as an “empirical means.” The general will must be unanimous. If the merely “empirical” wills of men are in conflict, then the general will—their “true” will—must lie hidden somewhere. Where is it to be found? Who will determine what it is, and how?

At this critical point in the argument, where explicitness and clarity are most indispensable, Rousseau turns coy and vague: the general will is “in conformity with principles”; it “only exists virtually in the conscience or imagination of ‘free men,’ ‘patriots.’” Cochin calls this “the idea of a legitimate people—very similar to that of a legitimate prince. For the regime’s doctrinaires, the people is an ideal being” (p. 158).

There is a strand of thought about the French Revolution that might be called the “Ideas-Have-Consequences School.” It casts Rousseau in the role of a mastermind who elaborated all the ideas that less important men such as Robespierre merely carried out. Such is not Cochin’s position. In his view, the analogies between the speculations of the Social Contract and Revolutionary practice arise not from one having caused or inspired the other, but from both being based upon the philosophical societies.

Rousseau’s model, in other words, was neither Rome nor Sparta nor Geneva nor any phantom of his own “idyllic imagination”—he was describing, in a somewhat idealized form, the philosophical societies of his day. He treated these recent and unusual social formations as the archetype of all legitimate human association (cf. pp. 127, 155). As such a description—but not as a blueprint for the Terror—the Social Contract may be profitably read by students of the Revolution.

Indeed, if we look closely at the nature and purpose of a philosophical society, some of Rousseau’s most extravagant assertions become intelligible and even plausible. Consider unanimity, for example. The society is, let us recall, “an association founded to elicit through discussion [and] set by vote the common opinion of its members.” In other words, rather than coming together because they agree upon anything, the philosophes come together precisely in order to reach agreement, to resolve upon some common opinion. The society values union itself more highly than any objective principle of union. Hence, they might reasonably think of themselves as an organization free of disagreement.

Due to its unreal character, furthermore, a philosophical society is not torn by conflicts of interest. It demands no sacrifice—nor even effort—from its members. So they can all afford to be entirely “public spirited.” Corruption—the misuse of a public trust for private ends—is a constant danger in any real polity. But since the society’s speculations are not of this world, each philosophe is an “Incorruptible”:

One takes no personal interest in theory. So long as there is an ideal to define rather than a task to accomplish, personal interest, selfishness, is out of the question. [This accounts for] the democrats’ surprising faith in the virtue of mankind. Any philosophical society is a society of virtuous, generous people subordinating political motives to the general good. We have turned our back on the real world. But ignoring the world does not mean conquering it. (p. 155)

(This pattern of thinking explains why leftists even today are wont to contrast their own “idealism” with the “selfish” activities of businessmen guided by the profit motive.)

We have already mentioned that the more glib or assiduous attendees of a philosophical society naturally begin exercising an informal ascendancy over other members: in the course of time, this evolves into a standing but unacknowledged system of oligarchic governance:

Out of one hundred registered members, fewer than five are active, and these are the masters of the society. [This group] is composed of the most enthusiastic and least scrupulous members. They are the ones who choose the new members, appoint the board of directors, make the motions, guide the voting. Every time the society meets, these people have met in the morning, contacted their friends, established their plan, given their orders, stirred up the unenthusiastic, brought pressure to bear upon the reticent. They have subdued the board, removed the troublemakers, set the agenda and the date. Of course, discussion is free, but the risk in this freedom minimal and the “sovereign’s” opposition little to be feared. The “general will” is free—like a locomotive on its tracks. (pp. 172–73)

 Cochin draws here upon James Bryce’s American Commonwealth and Moisey Ostrogorski’s Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties. Bryce and Ostrogorski studied the workings of Anglo-American political machines such as New York’s Tammany Hall and Joseph Chamberlain’s Birmingham Caucus. Cochin considered such organizations (plausibly, from what I can tell) to be authentic descendants of the French philosophical and revolutionary societies. He thought it possible, with due circumspection, to apply insights gained from studying these later political machines to previously misunderstand aspects of the Revolution.

One book with which Cochin seems unfortunately not to have been familiar is Robert Michels’ Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, published in French translation only in 1914. But he anticipated rather fully Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy,” writing, for example, that “every egalitarian society fatally finds itself, after a certain amount of time, in the hands of a few men; this is just the way things are” (p. 174). Cochin was working independently toward conclusions notably similar to those of Michels and Gaetano Mosca, the pioneering Italian political sociologists whom James Burnham called “the Machiavellians.” The significance of his work extends far beyond that of its immediate subject, the French Revolution.

The essential operation of a democratic political machine consists of just two steps, continually repeated: the preliminary decision and the establishment of conformity.

First, the ringleaders at the center decide upon some measure. They prompt the next innermost circles, whose members pass the message along until it reaches the machine’s operatives in the outermost local societies made up of poorly informed people. All this takes place unofficially and in secrecy (p. 179).

Then the local operatives ingenuously “make a motion” in their societies, which is really the ringleaders’ proposal without a word changed. The motion passes—principally through the passivity (Cochin writes “inertia”) of the average member. The local society’s resolution, which is now binding upon all its members, is with great fanfare transmitted back towards the center.

The central society is deluged with identical “resolutions” from dozens of local societies simultaneously. It hastens to endorse and ratify these as “the will of the nation.” The original measure now becomes binding upon everyone, though the majority of members have no idea what has taken place. Although really a kind of political ventriloquism by the ringleaders, the public opinion thus orchestrated “reveals a continuity, cohesion and vigor that stuns the enemies of Jacobinism” (p. 180).

In his study of the beginnings of the Revolution in Brittany, Cochin found sudden reversals of popular opinion which the likes of Monsieur Aulard would have taken at face value, but which become intelligible once viewed in the light of the democratic mechanism:

On All Saints’ Day, 1789, a pamphlet naïvely declared that not a single inhabitant imagined doing away with the privileged orders and obtaining individual suffrage, but by Christmas hundreds of the common people’s petitions were clamoring for individual suffrage or death. What was the origin of this sudden discovery that people had been living in shame and slavery for the past thousand years? Why was there this imperious, immediate need for a reform which could not wait a minute longer?

Such abrupt reversals are sufficient in themselves to detect the operation of a machine. (p. 179)

The basic democratic two-step is supplemented with a bevy of techniques for confusing the mass of voters, discouraging them from organizing opposition, and increasing their passivity and pliability: these techniques include constant voting about everything—trivial as well as important; voting late at night, by surprise, or in multiple polling places; extending the suffrage to everyone: foreigners, women, criminals; and voting by acclamation to submerge independent voices (pp. 182–83). If all else fails, troublemakers can be purged from the society by ballot:

This regime is partial to people with all sorts of defects, failures, malcontents, the dregs of humanity, anyone who cares for nothing and finds his place nowhere. There must not be religious people among the voters, for faith makes one conscious and independent. [The ideal citizen lacks] any feeling that might oppose the machine’s suggestions; hence also the preference for foreigners, the haste in naturalizing them. (pp. 186–87)

(I bite my lip not to get lost in the contemporary applications.)

The extraordinary point of Cochin’s account is that none of these basic techniques were pioneered by the revolutionaries themselves; they had all been developed in the philosophical societies before the Revolution began. The Freemasons, for example, had a term for their style of internal governance: the “Royal Art.” “Study the social crisis from which the Grand Lodge [of Paris Freemasons] was born between 1773 and 1780,” says Cochin, “and you will find the whole mechanism of a Revolutionary purge” (p. 61).

Secrecy is essential to the functioning of this system; the ordinary members remain “free,” meaning they do not consciously obey any authority, but order and unity are maintained by a combination of secret manipulation and passivity. Cochin relates “with what energy the Grand Lodge refused to register its Bulletin with the National Library” (p. 176). And, of course, the Freemasons and similar organizations made great ado over refusing to divulge the precise nature of their activities to outsiders, with initiates binding themselves by terrifying oaths to guard the sacred trust committed to them. Much of these societies’ appeal lay precisely in the natural pleasure men feel at being “in” on a secret of any sort.

In order to clarify Cochin’s ideas, it might be useful to contrast them at this point with those of the Abbé Barruel, especially as they have been confounded by superficial or dishonest leftist commentators (“No need to read that reactionary Cochin! He only rehashes Barruel’s conspiracy thesis”).

Father Barruel was a French Jesuit living in exile in London when he published his Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism in 1797. He inferred from the notorious secretiveness of the Freemasons and similar groups that they must have been plotting for many years the horrors revealed to common sight after 1789—conspiring to abolish monarchy, religion, social hierarchy, and property in order to hold sway over the ruins of Christendom.

Cochin was undoubtedly thinking of Barruel and his followers when he laments that

thus far, in the lives of these societies, people have only sought the melodrama—rites, mystery, disguises, plots—which means they have strayed into a labyrinth of obscure anecdotes, to the detriment of the true history, which is very clear. Indeed the interest in the phenomenon in question is not in the Masonic bric-a-brac, but in the fact that in the bosom of the nation the Masons instituted a small state governed by its own rules. (p. 137)

For our author, let us recall, a société de pensée such as the Masonic order has inherent constraints independent of the desires or intentions of the members. Secrecy—of the ringleaders in relation to the common members, and of the membership to outsiders—is one of these necessary aspects of its functioning, not a way of concealing criminal intentions. In other words, the Masons were not consciously “plotting” the Terror of ’93 years in advance; the Terror was, however, an unintended but natural outcome of the attempt to apply a version of the Mason’s “Royal Art” to the government of an entire nation.

Moreover, writes Cochin, the peculiar fanaticism and force of the Revolution cannot be explained by a conspiracy theory. Authors like Barruel would reduce the Revolution to “a vast looting operation”:

But how can this enthusiasm, this profusion of noble words, these bursts of generosity or fits of rage be only lies and play-acting? Could the Revolutionary party be reduced to an enormous plot in which each person would only be thinking [and] acting for himself while accepting an iron discipline? Personal interest has neither such perseverance nor such abnegation. Throughout history there have been schemers and egoists, but there have only been revolutionaries for the past one hundred fifty years. (pp. 121–22)

And finally, let us note, Cochin included academic and literary Societies, cultural associations, and schools as sociétés de pensée. Many of these organizations did not even make the outward fuss over secrecy and initiation that the Masons did.

 

By his own admission, Cochin has nothing to tell us about the causes of the Revolution’s outbreak:

I am not saying that in the movement of 1789 there were not real causes—[e.g.,] a bad fiscal regime that exacted very little, but in the most irritating and unfair manner—I am just saying these real causes are not my subject. Moreover, though they may have contributed to the Revolution of 1789, they did not contribute to the Revolutions of August 10 [1792, abolition of the monarchy] or May 31 [1793, purge of the Girondins]. (p. 125)

With these words, he turns his back upon the entire Marxist “class struggle” approach to understanding the Revolution, which was the fundamental presupposition of much twentieth-century research.

The true beginning of the Revolution on Cochin’s account was the announcement in August 1788 that the Estates General would be convoked for May 1789, for this was the occasion when the men of the societies first sprang into action to direct a real political undertaking. With his collaborator in archival work, Charpentier, he conducted extensive research into this early stage of the Revolution in Brittany and Burgundy, trying to explain not why it took place but how it developed. This material is omitted from the present volume of translations; I shall cite instead from Furet’s summary and discussion in Interpreting the French Revolution:

In Burgundy in the autumn of 1788, political activity was exclusively engineered by a small group of men in Dijon who drafted a “patriotic” platform calling for the doubling of the Third Estate, voting by head, and the exclusion of ennobled commoners and seigneurial dues collectors from the assemblies of the Third Estate. Their next step was the systematic takeover of the town’s corporate bodies. First came the avocats’ corporation where the group’s cronies were most numerous; then the example of that group was used to win over other wavering or apathetic groups: the lower echelons of the magistrature, the physicians, the trade guilds. Finally the town hall capitulated, thanks to one of the aldermen and pressure from a group of “zealous citizens.” In the end, the platform appeared as the freely expressed will of the Third Estate of Dijon. Promoted by the usurped authority of the Dijon town council, it then reached the other towns of the province.[2]

. . . where the same comedy was acted out, only with less trouble since the platform now apparently enjoyed the endorsement of the provincial capital. Cochin calls this the “snowballing method” (p. 84).

An opposition did form in early December: a group of nineteen noblemen which grew to fifty. But the remarkable fact is that the opponents of the egalitarian platform made no use of the traditional institutions or assemblies of the nobility; these were simply forgotten or viewed as irrelevant. Instead, the nobles patterned their procedures on those of the rival group: they thought and acted as the “right wing” of the revolutionary party itself. Both groups submitted in advance to arbitration by democratic legitimacy. The episode, therefore, marked not a parting of the ways between the supporters of the old regime and adherents of the new one, but the first of the revolutionary purges. Playing by its enemies’ rules, the opposition was defeated by mid-December.[3]

In Brittany an analogous split occurred in September and October rather than December. The traditional corporate bodies and the philosophical societies involved had different names. The final purge of the nobles was not carried out until January 1789. The storyline, however, was essentially the same. [4]  La Révolution n’a pas de patrie (p. 131).

The regulations for elections to the Estates General were finally announced on January 24, 1789. As we shall see, they provided the perfect field of action for the societies’ machinations.

The Estates General of France originated in the fourteenth century, and were summoned by the King rather than elected. The first two estates consisted of the most important ecclesiastical and lay lords of the realm, respectively. The third estate consisted not of the “commoners,” as usually thought, but of the citizens of certain privileged towns which enjoyed a direct relation with the King through a royal charter (i.e., they were not under the authority of any feudal lord). The selection of notables from this estate may have involved election, although based upon a very restricted franchise.

In the Estates General of those days, the King was addressing

the nation with its established order and framework, with its various hierarchies, its natural subdivisions, its current leaders, whatever the nature or origin of their authority. The king acknowledged in the nation an active, positive role that our democracies would not think of granting to the electoral masses. This nation was capable of initiative. Representatives with a general mandate—professional politicians serving as necessary intermediaries between the King and the nation—were unheard of. (pp. 97–98)

Cochin opposes to this older “French conception” the “English and parliamentary conception of a people of electors”:

A people made up of electors is no longer capable of initiative; at most, it is capable of assent. It can choose between two or three platforms, two or three candidates, but it can no longer draft proposals or appoint men. Professional politicians must present the people with proposals and men. This is the role of parties, indispensable in such a regime. (p. 98)

In 1789, the deputies were elected to the States General on a nearly universal franchise, but—in accordance with the older French tradition—parties and formal candidacies were forbidden: “a candidate would have been called a schemer, and a party a cabal” (p. 99).

The result was that the “electors were placed not in a situation of freedom, but in a void”:

The effect was marvelous: imagine several hundred peasants, unknown to each other, some having traveled twenty or thirty leagues, confined in the nave of a church, and requested to draft a paper on the reform of the realm within the week, and to appoint twenty or thirty deputies. There were ludicrous incidents: at Nantes, for example, where the peasants demanded the names of the assembly’s members be printed. Most could not have cited ten of them, and they had to appoint twenty-five deputies.

Now, what actually happened? Everywhere the job was accomplished with ease. The lists of grievances were drafted and the deputies appointed as if by enchantment. This was because alongside the real people who could not respond there was another people who spoke and appointed for them. (p. 100)

These were, of course, the men of the societies. They exploited the natural confusion and ignorance of the electorate to the hilt to obtain delegates according to their wishes. “From the start, the societies ran the electoral assemblies, scheming and meddling on the pretext of excluding traitors that they were the only ones to designate” (p. 153).

“Excluding”—that is the key word:

The society was not in a position to have its men nominated directly [parties being forbidden], so it had only one choice: have all the other candidates excluded. The people, it was said, had born enemies that they must not take as their defenders. These were the men who lost by the people’s enfranchisement, i.e., the privileged men first, but also the ones who worked for them: officers of justice, tax collectors, officials of any sort. (p. 104)

This raised an outcry, for it would have eliminated nearly everyone competent to represent the Third Estate. In fact, the strict application of the principle would have excluded most members of the societies themselves. But pretexts were found for excepting them from the exclusion: the member’s “patriotism” and “virtue” was vouched for by the societies, which “could afford to do this without being accused of partiality, for no one on the outside would have the desire, or even the means, to protest” (p. 104)—the effect of mass inertia, once again.

Having established the “social mechanism” of the revolution, Cochin did not do any detailed research on the events of the following four years (May 1789–June 1793), full of interest as these are for the narrative historian. Purge succeeded purge: Monarchiens, Feuillants, Girondins. Yet none of the actors seemed to grasp what was going on:

Was there a single revolutionary team that did not attempt to halt this force, after using it against the preceding team, and that did not at that very moment find itself “purged” automatically? It was always the same naïve amazement when the tidal wave reached them: “But it’s with me that the good Revolution stops! The people, that’s me! Freedom here, anarchy beyond!” (p. 57)

During this period, a series of elective assemblies crowned the official representative government of France: first the Constituent Assembly, then the Legislative Assembly, and finally the Convention. Hovering about them and partly overlapping with their membership were various private and exclusive clubs, a continuation of the pre-Revolutionary philosophical societies. Through a gradual process of gaining the affiliation of provincial societies, killing off rivals in the capital, and purging itself and its daughters, one of these revolutionary clubs acquired by June 1793 an unrivalled dominance. Modestly formed in 1789 as the Breton Circle, later renamed the Friends of the Constitution, it finally established its headquarters in a disused Jacobin Convent and became known as the Jacobin Club:

Opposite the Convention, the representative regime of popular sovereignty, thus arises the amorphous regime of the sovereign people, acting and governing on its own. “The sovereign is directly in the popular societies,” say the Jacobins. This is where the sovereign people reside, speak, and act. The people in the street will only be solicited for the hard jobs and the executions.

[The popular societies] functioned continuously, ceaselessly watching and correcting the legal authorities. Later they added surveillance committees to each assembly. The Jacobins thoroughly lectured, browbeat, and purged the Convention in the name of the sovereign people, until it finally adjourned the Convention’s power. (p. 153)

Incredibly, to the very end of the Terror, the Jacobins had no legal standing; they remained officially a private club. “The Jacobin Society at the height of its power in the spring of 1794, when it was directing the Convention and governing France, had only one fear: that it would be ‘incorporated’—that it would be ‘acknowledged’ to have authority” (p. 176). There is nothing the strict democrat fears more than the responsibility associated with public authority.

The Jacobins were proud that they did not represent anyone. Their principle was direct democracy, and their operative assumption was that they were “the people.” “I am not the people’s defender,” said Robespierre; “I am a member of the people; I have never been anything else” (p. 57; cf. p. 154). He expressed bafflement when he found himself, like any powerful man, besieged by petitioners.

Of course, such “direct democracy” involves a social fiction obvious to outsiders. To the adherent “the word people means the ‘hard core’ minority, freedom means the minority’s tyranny, equality its privileges, and truth its opinion,” explains our author; “it is even in this reversal of the meaning of words that the adherent’s initiation consists” (p. 138).

But by the summer of 1793 and for the following twelve months, the Jacobins had the power to make it stick. Indeed, theirs was the most stable government France had during the entire revolutionary decade. It amounted to a second Revolution, as momentous as that of 1789. The purge of the Girondins (May 31–June 2) cleared the way for it, but the key act which constituted the new regime, in Cochin’s view, was the levée en masse of August 23, 1793:

[This decree] made all French citizens, body and soul, subject to standing requisition. This was the essential act of which the Terror’s laws would merely be the development, and the revolutionary government the means. Serfs under the King in ’89, legally emancipated in ’91, the people become the masters in ’93. In governing themselves, they do away with the public freedoms that were merely guarantees for them to use against those who governed them. Hence the right to vote is suspended, since the people reign; the right to defend oneself, since the people judge; the freedom of the press, since the people write; and the freedom of expression, since the people speak. (p. 77)

An absurd series of unenforceable economic decrees began pouring out of Paris—price ceilings, requisitions, and so forth. But then, mirabile dictu, it turned out that the decrees needed no enforcement by the center:

Every violation of these laws not only benefits the guilty party but burdens the innocent one. When a price ceiling is poorly applied in one district and products are sold more expensively, provisions pour in from neighboring districts, where shortages increase accordingly. It is the same for general requisitions, censuses, distributions: fraud in one place increases the burden for another. The nature of things makes every citizen the natural enemy and overseer of his neighbor. All these laws have the same characteristic: binding the citizens materially to one another, the laws divide them morally.

Now public force to uphold the law becomes superfluous. This is because every district, panic-stricken by famine, organizes its own raids on its neighbors in order to enforce the laws on provisions; the government has nothing to do but adopt a laissez-faire attitude. By March 1794 the Committee of Public Safety even starts to have one district’s grain inventoried by another.

This peculiar power, pitting one village against another, one district against another, maintained through universal division the unity that the old order founded on the union of everyone: universal hatred has its equilibrium as love has its harmony. (pp. 230–32; cf. p. 91)

 The societies were, indeed, never more numerous, nor better attended, than during this period. People sought refuge in them as the only places they could be free from arbitrary arrest or requisitioning (p. 80; cf. p. 227). But the true believers were made uneasy rather than pleased by this development. On February 5, 1794, Robespierre gave his notorious speech on Virtue, declaring: “Virtue is in the minority on earth.” In effect, he was acknowledging that “the people” were really only a tiny fraction of the nation. During the months that ensued:

there was no talk in the Societies but of purges and exclusions. Then it was that the mother society, imitated as usual by most of her offspring, refused the affiliation of societies founded since May 31. Jacobin nobility became exclusive; Jacobin piety went from external mission to internal effort on itself. At that time it was agreed that a society of many members could not be a zealous society. The agents from Tournan sent to purge the club of Ozouer-la-Ferrière made no other reproach: the club members were too numerous for the club to be pure. (p. 56)

Couthon wrote from Lyon requesting “40 good, wise, honest republicans, a colony of patriots in this foreign land where patriots are in such an appalling minority.” Similar supplications came from Marseilles, Grenoble, Besançon; from Troy, where there were less than twenty patriots; and from Strasbourg, where there were said to be fewer than four—contending against 6,000 aristocrats!

The majority of men, remaining outside the charmed circle of revolutionary virtue, were:

“monsters,” “ferocious beasts seeking to devour the human race.” “Strike without mercy, citizen,” the president of the Jacobins tells a young soldier, “at anything that is related to the monarchy. Don’t lay down your gun until all our enemies are dead—this is humanitarian advice.” “It is less a question of punishing them than of annihilating them,” says Couthon. “None must be deported; [they] must be destroyed,” says Collot. General Turreau in the Vendée gave the order “to bayonet men, women, and children and burn and set fire to everything.” (p. 100)

Mass shootings and drownings continued for months, especially in places such as the Vendée which had previously revolted. Foreigners sometimes had to be used: “Carrier had Germans do the drowning. They were not disturbed by the moral bonds that would have stopped a fellow countryman” (p. 187).

Why did this revolutionary regime come to an end? Cochin does not tell us; he limits himself to the banal observation that “being unnatural, it could not last” (p. 230). His death in 1916 saved him from having to consider the counterexample of Soviet Russia. Taking the Jacobins consciously as a model, Lenin created a conspiratorial party which seized power and carried out deliberately the sorts of measures Cochin ascribes to the impersonal workings of the “social mechanism.” Collective responsibility, mutual surveillance and denunciation, the playing off of nationalities against one another—all were studiously imitated by the Bolsheviks. For the people of Russia, the Terror lasted at least thirty-five years, until the death of Stalin.

Cochin’s analysis raises difficult questions of moral judgment, which he does not try to evade. If revolutionary massacres were really the consequence of a “social mechanism,” can their perpetrators be judged by the standards which apply in ordinary criminal cases? Cochin seems to think not:

“I had orders,” Fouquier kept replying to each new accusation. “I was the ax,” said another; “does one punish an ax?” Poor, frightened devils, they quibbled, haggled, denounced their brothers; and when finally cornered and overwhelmed, they murmured “But I was not the only one! Why me?” That was the helpless cry of the unmasked Jacobin, and he was quite right, for a member of the societies was never the only one: over him hovered the collective force. With the new regime men vanish, and there opens in morality itself the era of unconscious forces and human mechanics. (p. 58)

Under the social regime, man’s moral capacities get “socialized” in the same way as his thought, action, and property. “Those who know the machine know there exist mitigating circumstances, unknown to ordinary life, and the popular curse that weighed on the last Jacobins’ old age may be as unfair as the enthusiasm that had acclaimed their elders,” he says (p. 210), and correctly points out that many of the former Terrorists became harmless civil servants under the Empire.

It will certainly be an unpalatable conclusion for many readers. I cannot help recalling in this connection the popular outrage which greeted Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem back in the 1960s, with its similar observations.

But if considering the social alienation of moral conscience permits the revolutionaries to appear less evil than some of the acts they performed, it also leaves them more contemptible. “We are far from narratives like Plutarch’s,” Cochin observes (p. 58); “Shakespeare would have found nothing to inspire him, despite the dramatic appearance of the situations” (p. 211).

Not one [of the Jacobins] had the courage to look [their judges] in the eye and say “Well, yes, I robbed, I tortured and I killed lawlessly, recklessly, mercilessly for an idea I consider right. I regret nothing; I take nothing back; I deny nothing. Do as you like with me.” Not one spoke thus—because not one possessed the positive side of fanaticism: faith. (p. 113)

Cochin’s interpretive labors deserve the attention of a wider audience than specialists in the history of the French Revolution. The possible application of his analysis to subsequent groups and events is great indeed, although the possibility of their misapplication is perhaps just as great. The most important case is surely Russia. Richard Pipes has noted, making explicit reference to Cochin, that Russian radicalism arose in a political and social situation similar in important respects to France of the ancien régime. On the other hand, the Russian case was no mere product of social “mechanics.” The Russian radicals consciously modeled themselves on their French predecessors. Pipes even shows how the Russian revolutionaries relied too heavily on the French example to teach them how a revolution is “supposed to” develop, blinding themselves to the situation around them. In any case, although Marxism officially considered the French Revolution a “bourgeois” prelude to the final “proletarian” revolution, Russian radicals did acknowledge that there was little in which the Jacobins had not anticipated them. Lenin considered Robespierre a Bolshevik avant la lettre.

The rise of the “Academic Left” is another phenomenon worth comparing to the “development of the enlightenment” in the French salons. The sheltered environment of our oversubsidized university system is a marvelous incubator for the same sort of utopian radicalism and cheap moral posturing.

Or consider the feminist “Consciousness Raising” sessions of the 1970’s. Women’s “personal constructs” (dissatisfaction with their husbands, feelings of being treated unfairly, etc.) were said to be “validated by the group,” i.e., came to be considered true when they met with agreement from other members, however outlandish they might sound to outsiders. “It is when a group’s ideas are strongly at variance with those in the wider society,” writes one enthusiast, “that group validation of constructs is likely to be most important.”[5] Cochin explained with reference to the sociétés de pensée exactly the sort of thing going on here.

Any serious attempt to extend and apply Cochin’s ideas will, however, have to face squarely one matter on which his own statements are confused or even contradictory.

Cochin sometimes speaks as if all the ideas of the Enlightenment follow from the mere form of the société de pensée, and hence should be found wherever they are found. He writes, for example, “Free thought is the same in Paris as in Peking, in 1750 as in 1914” (p. 127). Now, this is already questionable. It would be more plausible to say that the various competing doctrines of radicalism share a family resemblance, especially if one concentrates on their negative aspects such as the rejection of traditional “prejudices.”

But in other passages Cochin allows that sociétés de pensée are compatible with entirely different kinds of content. In one place (p. 62) he even speaks of “the royalist societies of 1815” as coming under his definition! Stendhal offers a memorable fictional portrayal of such a group in Le rouge et le noir, part II, chs. xxi–xxiii; Cochin himself refers to the Mémoires of Aimée de Coigny, and may have had the Waterside Conspiracy in mind. It would not be at all surprising if such groups imitated some of the practices of their enemies.

But what are we to say when Cochin cites the example of the Company of the Blessed Sacrament? This organization was active in France between the 1630s and 1660s, long before the “Age of Enlightenment.” It had collectivist tendencies, such as the practice of “fraternal correction,” which it justified in terms of Christian humility: the need to combat individual pride and amour-propre. It also exhibited a moderate degree of egalitarianism; within the Company, social rank was effaced, and one Prince of the Blood participated as an ordinary member. Secrecy was said to be the “soul of the Company.” One of its activities was the policing of behavior through a network of informants, low-cut evening dresses and the sale of meat during lent being among its special targets. Some fifty provincial branches accepted the direction of the Paris headquarters. The Company operated independently of the King, and opponents referred to it as the cabale des devots. Louis XIV naturally became suspicious of such an organization, and officially ordered it shut down in 1666.

Was this expression of counter-reformational Catholic piety a société de pensée? Were its members “God’s Jacobins,” or its campaign against immodest dress a “holy terror”? Cochin does not finally tell us. A clear typology of sociétés de pensée would seem to be necessary before his analysis of the philosophes could be extended with any confidence. But the more historical studies advance, the more difficult this task will likely become. Such is the nature of man, and of history.

Notes

[1] François Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 173.

[2] Furet, 184.

[3] Furet, 185.

[4] Furet, 186–90.

[5] http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/pubs/01psa.html [3]

Source: TOQ, vol. 8, no. 2 (Summer 2008)

 


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/06/from-salon-to-guillotine/

dimanche, 01 juillet 2012

Rousseau as Conservative - The Theodicy of Civilization

Rousseau as Conservative:
The Theodicy of Civilization

By Greg Johnson

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

philosophie,jean-jacques rousseau,rousseausime,18ème siècle,éducationIn 1762, Immanuel Kant did something unprecedented: he missed his daily walk. He stayed home to read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s new book Emile, a philosophical novel on education which was to exercise a profound and revolutionary influence on his thought.[1] In one of his notes on Rousseau, from 1764–1765, Kant writes:

Newton was the very first to see order and regularity bound up with the greatest simplicity, where before him disorder and mismatched heterogeneity were to be met with, whereas since then comets run in geometric paths.

Rousseau was the very first to discover under the heterogeneity of the assumed shapes of humanity its deeply hidden nature and the concealed law according to which providence through his observation is justified. Formerly the objections of Alfonso and Mani were still valid. After Newton and Rousseau, God is justified and Pope’s thesis is henceforth true.[2]

Here Kant, who was a great admirer of Newton, lauds Rousseau as the Newton of the human world. He also indicates the central problem that any Newton of the human world must face: the objections of Alfonso and Mani. What Alfonso and Mani are objecting to is the idea of divine providence.

King Alfonso X of Castile reportedly declared, “Let justice triumph though the world may perish,” implying that in this world there is no justice; he also reportedly said, upon inspecting the Ptolemaic system of the heavens, that “If I had been the creator of the world, I should have made the thing better.”[3]

Both claims imply that the created world is not ruled by a benevolent divine providence, but by the forces of evil, which is the position of Mani, the founder of Manicheanism.

To answer the objections of Alfonso and Mani, we must solve the problem of evil, i.e., we must produce a theodicy. We must show that the evils of the world are consistent with an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, provident God–either by showing that the evils of the world are illusory, or by showing that they are the unavoidable characteristics of the best of all possible worlds, which is the thesis of Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man and Leibniz’s Theodicy, the thesis known as “optimism.”

Now, at first glance, it seems odd to attribute an optimistic solution to the problem of evil to Rousseau, for although Rousseau thought that the natural world is good, the same was not true of society. Consider this passage from Emile:

when . . . I seek to know my individual place in my species, and I consider its various ranks and the men who fill them, what happens to me? What a spectacle! Where is the order I had observed [in nature]? The picture of nature had presented me with only harmony and proportion; that of mankind presents me with only confusion and disorder! Concert reigns among the elements, and men are in chaos! The animals are happy; their king alone is miserable! O wisdom, where are your laws? O providence, it it thus that you rule the world? Beneficent Being, what has become of your power? I see evil on earth. (Emile,[4] 278)

Indeed, the overall tenor of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (First Discourse, 1750[5]) and his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (Second Discourse, 1754[6]) was so darkly pessimistic that Voltaire, who was himself no defender of optimism, declared them “books against the human race.”

The First Discourse argues that the progress of the arts and sciences from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment has served to corrupt rather than to improve morals. The advancement of civilization causes the decay of humanity.

The Second Discourse argues that civilization as such is absurd and evil–absurd because it arises from sheer Epicurean contingency rather than through providence or natural teleology, both of which aim at the good–and evil because it alienates us from our natural goodness, our natural freedom, and our natural sentiments of self-love and pity.

What, then, was Kant thinking of when he attributed a theodicy of the human world to Rousseau? How did he read Rousseau as an optimist? There are three Rousseauian texts that can support Kant’s optimistic reading: Emile, Of the Social Contract (1762), and the famous letter to Voltaire of August 18, 1756,[7] which was published without Rousseau’s permission and may have reached Kant. (I should also note that the following discussion is partial, for it abstracts from the crucial topic of Rousseau’s denial of original sin and assertion of the natural goodness of man.)

In his letter to Voltaire, Rousseau responds to Voltaire’s Poems on the Lisbon Disaster, an attack on optimism occasioned by the series of great earthquakes that destroyed much of Lisbon in 1755. Rousseau explicitly defends the optimism of Leibniz and Pope.

Furthermore, he makes it clear that he is an optimist about both the human and the natural worlds, arguing that the First and Second Discourses, contrary to the pessimistic impression they create, actually vindicate God’s providence by showing that God is not the author of mankind’s miseries. Man himself is their author.

Because mankind is free, we are the author of all of our moral miseries and, because we have the freedom to avoid or minimize most of our physical miseries, to the extent that we fail to do so, we are their authors as well. God is blameless.[8]

In Of the Social Contract, the project of a theodicy of the human world is apparent in the famous opening paragraph of Book I, Chapter 1:

Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. One believes himself the master of others, and yet he is a greater slave than they. How has this change come about? I do not know. What can render it legitimate? I believe that I can settle this question.[9]

In the state of nature, man is free. In the civil condition, he is in chains, but the chains are not merely the iron fetters of slaves, but the fetters of vanity (amour-propre) which bind the masters as well. How did man pass from the state of nature to the civil state? Rousseau claims he does not know.

Now this is a startling claim, for Rousseau’s Second Discourse is precisely an account of man’s passage from the state of nature to the civil state. Apparently, whatever kind of account it is, it does not in Rousseau’s eyes constitute knowledge. This is an important point, to which we will return later.

Rousseau’s next question, “What can render it legitimate?” introduces the question of justice. Rousseau’s goal is to show us that the chains of civilization are legitimate, that they are justified.

It is not possible to offer a complete interpretation of Rousseau’s General Will doctrine here, so let me simply to assert that for Rousseau the civil state is not good because we choose it; rather we ought to choose it because it is good.

Furthermore, Rousseau does not think that only the ideal state of the Social Contract is preferable to the state of nature. He thinks that all really-existing civil states, save the most corrupt, are more choiceworthy than the state of nature; the civil state as such is better than the state of nature.

And why is the civil state good? Rousseau’s most explicit answer is Chapter 8 of Book I: “Of the Civil State”:

This transition from the state of nature to the civil state produces in man a very remarkable change, by substituting in his conduct justice for instinct, and by giving his actions a morality that they previously lacked. It is only when the voice of duty succeeds physical impulsion, and right succeeds appetite, that man, who till then had only looked after himself, sees that he is forced to act on other principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although in this state he is deprived of many advantages he holds from nature, he gains such great ones in return, that his faculties are exercised and developed; his ideas are expanded; his feelings are ennobled; his whole soul is exalted to such a degree that, if the abuse of his new condition did not often degrade him to below that from which he has emerged, he should ceaselessly bless the happy moment that removed him from it forever, and transformed him from a stupid and ignorant animal into an intelligent being and a man.[10]

Now, in the context of Of the Social Contract, the alternative title of which is “Principles of Political Right,” it is only natural to construe the question of the legitimacy of the civil state as a matter of political or human justice. But the “happy moment” when man passed from the state of nature into the civil state marks the beginning of historical life; it is not the same as the moment in history when man passed from primitive and warlike society (Hobbes’ state of nature) to law-governed political society; rather it is the moment when the human world itself comes into existence.

The transition from warlike society to political society can be guided and illuminated by principles of political right. But the transition from nature to history is pre-political, and if we are to “ceaselessly bless” this moment, it is not in virtue of its political justice, but in virtue of a natural justice–a natural justice that in Emile is revealed to be a divine justice.

In Emile, particularly the Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar in Book IV, Rousseau offers an explicit theodicy of the human world, arguing that man’s fall from nature into history is a felix culpa, even if it does violence to our natural freedom and sentiments, because it creates the conditions for the development of our moral and spiritual natures. Providence, therefore, is vindicated.

First, Rousseau argues that, although man chooses most of his miseries and is therefore responsible for them, the very freedom that creates these miseries is also the condition for his moral dignity:

To complain about God’s not preventing men from doing evil is to complain about His having given him an excellent nature, about His having put in man’s actions the morality which ennobles them, about His having given him the right to virtue. The supreme enjoyment is in satisfaction with oneself; it is in order to deserve this satisfaction that we are placed on Earth and endowed with freedom, that we are tempted by the passions and restrained by conscience. (Emile, 281)

Second, Rousseau argues that civilization makes possible the development of man’s rational faculties, whereas savages and peasants, although bright and active during childhood, become mentally dull and placid as adults. During childhood, young Emile, whose education is the subject of the book, is given all the freedom of young savages and peasants. But Emile will be taught to think, and thinking is an activity that presupposes the development of civilization. Therefore, the full development of Emile’s intellectual faculties requires that he leave the state of nature for the civil state. Thinking is good, and civilization, because it cultivates thinking, is good as well (Emile, 315–16).

Third, the cultivation of taste adds a great deal to the agreeableness of life; it teaches us to find pleasures virtually anywhere and to minimize pain and suffering (Emile, 344); it also makes us more finely attuned to the objective differences in the world around us; and it encourages us to take pleasure in reflection and discussion, thus creating the conditions for philosophy. The ideal place to cultivate taste, however, is not Arcadia or Sparta or Geneva, but decadent Paris:

If, in order to cultivate my disciple’s taste [speaks the preceptor, the narrator of Emile], I had to choose between taking him to countries where there has not yet been any cultivation of taste and to others where taste has already degenerated, I would proceed in reverse order. . . . taste is corrupted by an excessive delicacy which creates a sensitivity to things that the bulk of men do not perceive. This delicacy leads to a spirit of discussion, for the more subtle one is about things, the more they multiply. This subtlety makes feelings more delicate and less uniform. Then as many tastes are formed as there are individuals. In the disputes about preferences, philosophy and enlightenment are extended, and it is in this way that one learns to think. (Emile, 342)

Even the theater, Geneva’s ban on which Rousseau defended, is lauded as a school of taste (Emile, 344).

Finally, in book five of Emile, the political institutions which so frequently do violence to our natural freedom and sentiments are defended as necessary conditions for the development of our moral and spiritual nature:

If he [Emile] had been born in the heart of the woods, he would have lived happier and freer. But he would have had nothing to combat in order to follow his inclinations, and thus he soul have been good without merit; he would not have been virtuous; and now he knows how to be so in spite of his passions. The mere appearance of order brings him to know order and to love it. The public good, which serves others only as a pretext, is a real motive for him alone. He learns to struggle with himself, to conquer himself, to sacrifice his interest to the common interest. It is not true that he draws no profit from the laws. They give him the courage to be just even among wicked men. It is not true that they have not made him free. They have taught him to reign over himself. (Emile, 473)

It is important to note that Rousseau is not talking about the good laws of the ideal state described in Of the Social Contract, but about the bad laws of any and all really-existing states. For Rousseau, even bad laws are better than no laws at all, for laws as such awaken and actualize potencies of the soul which slumber in the state of nature. In particular, laws which prescribe actions contrary to our inclinations awaken our free will; such laws open up the latent distinction between the soul and the body (the soul understood as our moral personality, the body understood as the desires, drives, and inclinations of our physical frame), and finally such laws offer us occasions for virtue, understood as self-mastery.

Man in the state of nature is unreflective and therefore experiences no distinction between the self and its desires and inclinations. Freedom in the state of nature is experienced as the free play of inclination. It is only when a human being is presented with the choice of two incompatible courses of action, one determined by his inclinations and the other by the commandments of the law, that he becomes aware of his moral freedom, i.e., his capacity not simply to follow his impulses, but actively to choose his actions–and not simply to choose particular actions, but to choose the ultimate grounds for determining his actions.

When a human being is presented with the choice of acting upon the desires and incentives of the economy of nature or upon human laws–even absurd and unjust commands–if he chooses to suppress his natural inclinations to obey human laws, then he experiences a sublime elevation of his moral personality above his own body, and above the economy of nature in general, as well as a sense of pride in his moral strength and self-mastery.

Rousseau is fully cognizant of the cruelty of civilization, of its tendency to mortify and mutilate our natural freedom, our natural goodness, and our natural sentiments of self-love and pity. But even at its worst, civilization is justified by the fact that it awakens our distinctly human capacities to exercise moral freedom, to master our inclinations, to take responsibility for our actions. Civilization brings us to know and esteem ourselves as creatures who are not merely cogs in the clockwork of nature, but its masters and possessors. Therefore, civilization—even at its worst—is better than the state of nature. Therefore, the providence that brought us from nature to history is vindicated.

This, I think, is a plausible reconstruction of how Kant read Rousseau’s project as a theodicy of the human world. Now I wish to deal with an objection to this interpretation.

The Kantian interpretation of Rousseau can be characterized as theistic and dualistic, whereas most contemporary interpretations of Rousseau, particularly those influenced by Marx and Leo Strauss tend to treat Rousseau as a modern Epicurean, i.e., as an atheist and a materialist. The Epicurean interpretation of Rousseau is based primarily upon the Second Discourse, and I think that James H. Nichols, Jr. is correct to suggest that,

in this particular work Rousseau is most obviously influenced by Lucretius: the analysis of man’s primitive condition, and of the subsequent steps of development out of it; the character of prepolitical society; and thereafter the movement via disorder and violence to the institution by compact of political society with coercive laws–on all these points Rousseau follows the main lines of the Lucretian account.[11]

Both Rousseau and Lucretius regard man as naturally independent, self-sufficient, limited in his desires, and therefore as happy.

Both regard society as a realm of vanity, false opinions, and artificial desires which trap us in an alienating web of interdependence with other persons and external things, leading to competition, enmity, violence, oppression, and misery.

Finally, both Lucretius and Rousseau offer a non-teleological and non-providential account of man’s passage from nature into history.

Epicureanism is to this day the main alternative to teleological and theistic accounts of the origins of order. According to Epicurus, the appearance of order can be explained without reference to teleology or design, simply as the product of random material collisions which, over a very long time, accidentally produce pockets of order which can maintain and replicate themselves within the environing chaos.

On such an account, man does not leave the state of nature because of the inner-promptings of his nature. Nor does he leave it under the guidance of providence to fulfill a divine plan. Man leaves the state of nature simply because of the accumulation of a large number of essentially contingent and absurd events, such as volcanic eruptions, tectonic upheavals, and even–in the Essay on the Origin of Language–the sudden shifting of the earth’s axis of rotation away from the perpendicular of the plane of its orbit.

Rousseau makes no reference to natural teleology. And save for one reference, appeals to providence are conspicuously absent. Indeed, Rousseau’s account of man’s passage from the state of nature is even more Epicurean than Lucretius’s account, for Lucretius offers a harsher view of prehistoric life than Rousseau and therefore makes the passage from prehistory to history seem far more natural, whereas Rousseau paints an idyllic picture of prehistoric life, which makes the transition from nature to history seem all the more jarring and inexplicable.

Since the perspective of the Second Discourse is clearly Epicurean, i.e., atheistic and materialistic, if one accepts the Second Discourse as a statement of Rousseau’s metaphysical convictions, one is obligated to explain away Rousseau’s theistic and dualistic pronouncements–as well as his explicit critique and rejection of Epicureanism–in Emile, the letter to Voltaire, and elsewhere.

The strategy of Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom seems to be to assimilate the credo of the Savoyard vicar to Rousseau’s account of civil religion in Of the Social Contract. To put it crudely, the vicar’s credo is a salutary noble lie–something to be believed by Emile, but not by Rousseau himself.

Roger D. Masters, although he is a student of Strauss, rejects this approach–in my opinion quite rightly. Rousseau’s substantial agreement with the vicar’s credo is indicated by the fact that its language and arguments appear in texts written in Rousseau’s own name, such as the letter to Voltaire of August 18, 1756, the letter to Jacob Vernes of February 18, 1758, the Letters written from the Mountain, and the Reveries. Rousseau also adds his own approving notes to the Profession itself.[12]

On the basis of such evidence, Masters concludes that Rousseau’s private convictions were theistic and dualistic, although he maintains that these private convictions are “detachable” from Rousseau’s public philosophy, which remains atheistic and materialistic.

By contrast, the Kantian interpretation of Rousseau I wish to defend maintains that both Rousseau’s private convictions and his final philosophic system are dualistic and theistic.

But to maintain this thesis, I must explain, or explain away, the apparent Epicureanism of the Second Discourse. I wish to suggest that the Second Discourse really is an Epicurean account of man’s nature and his passage into history, but that it does not represent Rousseau’s final metaphysical position.

I do not, however, wish to argue that it represents an Epicurean “stage” in Rousseau’s “philosophical development.” Instead, I wish to suggest that the Epicureanism of the Second Discourse is merely hypothetical and provisional. This is, I think, the clear sense of the following passage:

Let us . . . begin by setting all the facts aside, for they do not affect the question. The researches which can be undertaken concerning this subject must not be taken for historical truths, but only for hypothetical and conditional reasonings better suited to clarify the nature of things than to show their true origin, like those of our physicists make every day concerning the formation of the world. Religion commands us to believe that since God Himself took men out of the state of nature immediately after creation, they are unequal because He wanted them to be so; but it does not forbid us to form conjectures, drawn solely from the nature of man and the beings surrounding him, about what the human race might have become if it has remained abandoned to itself. That is what I am asked and what I propose to examine in this Discourse.[13]

Those who wish to treat Rousseau as something more than a hypothetical and conditional Epicurean can, of course, treat this passage as merely an attempt to placate possible Christian censors by casting what is meant to be a true account of man’s nature and history as merely suppositious.

I think that this is clearly part of Rousseau’s intention. But I see no reason to conclude that his statement is also insincere, especially because I can offer a good philosophical reasons for why Rousseau might have adopted a hypothetical Epicureanism, and as a rule I think that we should always prefer philosophical explanations of a given passage instead of, or in addition to, extrinsic political explanations, and we should always prefer taking an author’s statement as sincere unless and until it resists such treatment.

What, then, is the philosophical explanation for Rousseau’s provisional adoption of a position he regards as ultimately false? I wish to suggest that the purpose of the Second Discourse is to lay the groundwork for a total critique of civilization. To offer a total critique of civilization, we must find a standpoint outside of civilization from which we can take the totality of civilization into view. This standpoint is the state of nature.

But why an Epicurean as opposed to, say, an Aristotelian account of the state of nature? Because for Aristotle, man is by nature both rational and political; for Aristotle, the actualization of man’s nature requires civilization; therefore, Aristotelian nature cannot provide a critical standpoint outside of civilization. Epicurean nature, however, can.

In the Second Discourse, man is by nature neither rational nor political. He is a simple, unreflective, undivided material being, wholly content with his lot. Civilization, when viewed from the state of nature, thus seems to be nothing more than a ghastly spectacle of suffering, and we are left to conclude that there’s nothing in it for us; we feel with a pang that our hearts are just not in it.

Given the choice, we would never have left the state of nature. Instead, we were forced out of it by mere accidents. Civilization as such, therefore, is both evil and absurd.

But why does Rousseau mount a total critique of civilization? Rousseau’s critique is not an end itself. Nor is it the prelude to a total revolutionary reconstruction of society. Instead, it is a prelude to an essentially conservative project of reconciliation–the reconciliation of man with civilization and with divine providence. It is a theodicy of the human world.

Rousseau constructs the strongest possible critique of civilization in order to oppose it with the strongest possible defense.

To mount this defense however, we must recognize that the sense of complete alienation from civilization produced by the Second Discourse is a product of its essentially atheistic and materialistic perspective.

Rousseau claims that civilization is based upon man’s internal dividedness against himself. Epicureanism, as a one-dimensional materialism, can conceive of man only as a unified being. Therefore, from the Epicurean point of view, the dividedness of civilization–any civilization–is a violent deformation of our nature.

Civilization would, however, be justified if man really is a divided being. If man really is divided into body and soul, then the only way to heal the violent dividedness of vanity is with the natural dividedness of virtue.

It is only by adopting a dualistic account of human nature and a theistic and providential metaphysics that we can reconcile ourselves to civilization.

This does not, of course imply that Rousseau was uninterested in social and political reform. What it does imply is that Rousseau accepted the essentially conservative principle that although bad laws ought to be changed, bad laws are still better than no laws at all; therefore, we should be cautious lest we discover we are more capable of destroying bad laws than creating better ones.

Notes

1. In the 1970s, at the University of Toronto’s Law School, there occurred a remarkable panel on Plato’s Republic, the principal members of which are numbered among this century’s greatest Plato interpreters: Hans-Georg Gadamer, Eric Voegelin, and Allan Bloom. Bloom prefaced his remarks on the Republic with a remarkable claim about Kant and Rousseau. He said, if memory serves, that “Kant was an absolutely extraordinary interpreter of Rousseau, perhaps the greatest interpreter of Rousseau who ever lived.” I find this claim interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is this: If Bloom’s estimation of the profundity of Kant’s reading is correct, then some of what Bloom himself says about Rousseau has to be wrong.

2. Immanuel Kant, Bemerkungen in den “Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen,” ed. Marie Rischmüller (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1991), 48; my trans.

3. My source for the second anecdote is Ernst Cassirer, Rousseau, Kant, Goethe: Two Essays, trans. James Gutmann, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and John Hermann Randall, Jr. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945), 18, n22.

4. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979).

5. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and Arts (First Discourse) and Polemics, ed. Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly, The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol. 2 (Hanover and London: Dartmouth College/University Press of New England, 1992).

6. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (Second Discourse), Polemics, and Political Economy, ed. Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly, The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol. 3, ed. Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly (Hanover and London: Dartmouth College/University Press of New England, 1992).

7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Letter to Voltaire, August 18, 1756.  Trans. Terence E. Marshall, in The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol. 3.

8. Letter to Voltaire, 109–10, 111–12; cf. Emile, 281–2, 293.

9. Rousseau, Of the Social Contract, trans. Charles M. Sherover (New York: Harper and Row, 1984), 4.

10. Of the Social Contract, 18.

11. James H. Nichols, Jr., Epicurean Political Philosophy: The De rerum natura of Lucretius (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), 198–99.

12. Roger D. Masters, The Political Philosophy of Rousseau (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), ch. 2.

13. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, ed., Roger D. Masters, trans. Roger D. Masters and Judith R. Bush (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1964), 103.


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/06/rousseau-as-conservative-the-theodicy-of-civilization/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Et-in-Arcadia-Ego.jpg

mercredi, 16 mai 2012

Rousseau et la postmodernité

Rousseau et la postmodernité

par Claude BOURRINET

 

Rousseau.jpgJean-Jacques Rousseau est sans doute l’humain qui est parvenu le mieux à contrecarrer l’emprise du Christ sur les consciences, les cœurs et les habitudes. Jamais un individu n’a connu une influence aussi universelle que ce fils d’artisan. Le lire est parcourir un territoire étrangement familier. Ses bonheurs, ses souffrances, ses aspirations et ses désespoirs, nous les avons vécus, nous les vivons, ou il nous a préparés à les consentir. Si le Fils de l’Homme nous a ouvert le royaume des cieux, lui, l’orphelin de naissance, nous a fait découvrir le royaume de l’intérieur, cette terra incognita, source de tous les enchantements et de tous les déchirements. Le premier, il a offert au monde une recette, le roman de soi-même, et, à sa suite, pour paraphraser Andy Warhol, n’importe qui peut obtenir, non sans doute à coup sûr son quart d’heure de gloire, du moins le sentiment d’avoir quelque chose à dire, sinon que cela soit intéressant, puisque c’est dit par quelqu’un qui est soi. La raison du succès, du triomphe de Rousseau est bien d’avoir réussi à parer la banalité de l’apparat du romanesque. Après lui, aucune mise en cause de la médiocrité n’est plus possible, par ce seul fait qu’elle reçoit l’onction de l’advenu, de l’existant, qui englobe toutes choses, tant l’existence est bien ce qui s’ouvre à tous les possibles, fussent-ils banals. Aussi notre monde semble-il saturé de légitimités démultipliées mais vacillantes, en mal de reconnaissances, qui souffrent ardemment de ne pas participer à ce qui leur revient de droit, et qui s’en trouvent mises en croix.

 

Qui n’a pas lu passionnément les Confessions à dix-sept ans, sans perdre le sommeil, ne sait pas ce qu’est la littérature. Ce diable d’homme présente tous les charmes d’un dieu. Sa phrase étourdit, enchante, enivre, et ce n’est certes pas un hasard qu’il fût d’abord un musicien. Et pourtant, dans le même temps qu’on l’adore, le vénère – et l’on comprend très bien que plusieurs générations de jeunes gens aient fait le pèlerinage d’Ermenonville – on se met à l’exécrer, voire à le mépriser.

 

L’homme Rousseau est indissociable de sa pensée, et réciproquement. Les romans et les œuvres autobiographiques, qui traduisent sa sensibilité et son imagination, sont aussi signifiants du point de vue théorique que le sont ses essais par rapport à tout ce qui intéresse sa vie affective. Cherchant plus à justifier un comportement qu’à prouver la vérité d’un système, ses écrits, même les plus abstraits, seront une apologie de Jean-Jacques. Le Contrat social n’est-il pas un moyen civique de rétablir une « sympathie des âmes », évoquée de façon si sublime dans la rencontre avec Madame de Warens, à l’échelle d’une nation, en conjurant le « maléfice de l’apparence » qu’aurait incarné le système de la représentation politique ?

 

Il suit par-là une démarche contraire à ce qui était admis à l’âge classique, c’est-à-dire la séparation entre l’individu privé, qui n’intéresse pas, ce « misérable petit tas de secrets », et l’auteur, celui qui crée une œuvre faite pour le public et, avec un peu de chance et de talent, pour la postérité. Bien que, dans le fond, une telle dissociation entre la personne et sa création soit problématique. Car si, par exemple, Racine fut un courtisan parvenu, doté d’un bon sens pratique, il est aventureux d’avancer que ses tragédies fussent radicalement étrangères à sa vision du monde, qui pouvait être, comme son éducation l’y conduisait, janséniste. Toutefois il ne vivait pas selon les préceptes de Port-Royal. Les mêmes remarques, malgré les paradoxes de Valéry, qui insistait sur le rôle de l’artifex, valent pour La Fontaine, et tous les auteurs classiques qui fuyaient la singularité, contraire au modèle de l’honnête homme, et visaient l’homme en soi, universel. Selon le mot de Buffon, le style est l’homme-même, non l’être particulier, différent de tous les autres, mais l’empreinte dans son écriture de ce qui fait la spécificité de l’humanité, la raison, la clarté et l’ordre. Au fond, cette appréhension de la création littéraire, et, par-delà, politique, demeurera jusqu’à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, puisque les philosophes projettent de reconstruire, par une psychologie jugée universelle, quels que soient l’espace et le temps, une société idéale. Le seul changement d’une universalité à l’autre est que celle du XVIIe siècle ambitionnait de dresser un inventaire, tandis que celle des Lumières, plus injonctive, fixe un horizon à atteindre. Et c’est bien en cela que Rousseau ne peut être dit « romantique », car son propos débouche sur l’universalité, non seulement dans son projet politique, mais aussi dans l’exemplarité de sa singularité, qui n’est si bloquée dans l’immédiateté, si perdue dans l’irrationnel, mais qui cherche à trouver une similarité entre les hommes, cet « état de nature » enfoui, occulté, et néanmoins présent, susceptible de restaurer une communication sur le mode de l’émotion et de la sensibilité « naïve ».

 

Rousseau paraissait emprunter, dans sa méthode, une voie déductive, s’en tenant à des principes. En affirmant la souveraineté du peuple, il en avait tiré, rigoureusement, toutes les implications. Il quêtait aussi, dans la marque profonde qu’avait laissée l’origine de l’homme, un accès au bonheur, pour peu que l’on s’évertuât d’éliminer toutes les passions factices, les habitudes pernicieuses, qui déparent le cœur de l’homme. Cette idée est reprise dans le Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville, de Diderot, qui répudie la société occidentale et sa religion moralisatrice, au bénéfice de la vie naturelle fondée sur une morale mêlant plaisir et raison. Chez de nombreux penseurs antérieurs à Rousseau écrivain, comme Montesquieu, dans Les Lettres persanes, les vertus pouvaient s’allier aux jouissances, les passions, à conditions qu’elles fussent simples, étaient bonnes. Vauvenargues, Duclos, Toussaint, Helvétius, d’Holbach partageaient cette conviction.

 

Rousseau n’était donc pas le seul à fonder sa morale sur le sentiment. Tout son siècle l’y portait, les sermons, les prières, les odes, les élégies, les manuels de piété, les romans, les mémoires, les correspondances, un siècle nourri essentiellement de pensée anglaise, et notamment de Locke, qui mettait la sensibilité avant la réflexion, en qualité et dans l’ordre de la succession des étapes de construction de l’être humain. Rousseau le répète : j’ai senti avant de penser. Le quiétisme lui-même s’en prenait à la raison. Les libertins, au sens philosophique, comme Du Bos, en 1719, plaçaient le sentiment à l’origine du goût artistique et poétique. Mais c’est Rousseau qui explicita le mieux et le plus profondément ce qui était diffus dans le cercle assez fermé des intellectuels, et, surtout, qui en fit une règle de vie, en réformant cette dernière radicalement (vitam impedere vero), décision qui, après avoir suscité une sorte de fascination dans Le Monde, aboutit, à force de scandales, et singulièrement à l’occasion de la parution des Confessions, à la réprobation. Étaler son moi sans pudeur – et l’adoption du costume arménien en est une sorte d’emblème – n’était pas encore de bon aloi. Jean-Jacques ne manifestait pas la retenue qui sied aux gens de la bonne société, dont faisaient partie Voltaire, Diderot, Helvétius, ces « messieurs ». Il fut chassé de France, L’Émile fut brûlé par le Parlement (cette même bourgeoisie d’affaires et de chicane qui contestait obstinément la monarchie et conduirait cette dernière au désastre), son Contrat social, en même temps que son traité pédagogique, subissaient le même autodafé à Genève, qu’il admirait. La Profession de foi du vicaire savoyard, en s’attaquant à la religion civile, que Voltaire jugeait indispensable pour maintenir l’ordre, et que Rousseau lui-même, peu conséquent, accepte dans son Contrat social, était une déclaration de guerre aux philosophes rationalistes et à la société. Car se suffire du sentiment, c’est dénier l’autorité extérieure, et les intermédiaires entre le moi et le monde. La religiosité vague et affective conduit au bonheur, et l’on peut se passer des autres, sauf d’un cœur aimé. Le petit paradis utopique du lac de Genève, avec sa vache, son petit bateau, réminiscence des pastorales de L’Astrée, est renvoyé à la face d’une société hypocrite et viciée par la « civilisation ». La réponse de cette « société », étrangement, est aussi violente que l’est la provocation de Jean-Jacques, qui est ainsi contraint de se réfugier, vainement, en Suisse, à Genève, dont on l’exclut, puis d’Yverdon, de Motiers, de l’Île Saint-Pierre, où il connaît le même sort.

 

La présence d’une nature primitive au cœur de l’homme, assimilée à sa dimension enfantine, à une pureté détruite par une société mauvaise, garantit l’innocence de Jean-Jacques, et son authenticité. L’obstacle éprouvé de façon réitérée dans son commerce avec autrui est l’équivalent des corps intermédiaires qui empêchent, en la déviant, l’expression franche et intégrale du peuple. La démocratie directe, la volonté générale peut se passer de forme positive, car il suffit qu’elle existe pour emplir tout le champ de la puissance. En s’aliénant, elle reconnaît à l’État le droit de la refléter, comme un miroir. Comment cet État prend-il forme, et quel est son mode concret de délégation – s’il en est – de son autorité, c’est un mystère. Il est comme un Dieu du cœur qui n’existe que parce qu’il touche le sentiment, c’est-à-dire le peuple. Les débats sont aussi inutiles que la réflexion philosophique. Le peuple peut se passer du paraître, puisque la cité intégrale est son être. La rupture entre la source de la légitimité et les corps constitués, qui sont les héritiers d’une histoire et l’ajustement des équilibres entre les forces sociales antagonistes, sous le prétexte d’effacer les abus et les préjugés, les illusions, le « voile » et les mensonges rhétoriques, et d’éliminer les masques et les rôles, ouvre une béance dans laquelle s’engouffrent tous les possibles, la révolution permanente des désirs insatisfaits et des violences compensatrices. Le gouvernement des hommes en devient impossible. Rousseau offre à ses contemporains, et à la postérité, bien plus que des philosophes comme Voltaire, qui avaient pensé la fausseté nécessaire à toute organisation humaine, le fantasme d’une société transparente.

 

Car si le péché est absent dans la pensée des Lumières, la morale naturelle s’en passant bien, cependant il réapparaît comme faute involontaire dans la perspective du lien social qui, par les quiproquos inévitables des relations, voile la transparence originelle de l’existence, dont le langage est musique du cœur, poésie de l’immédiat plutôt que prose de la médiation. À ce compte, personne n’est responsable, hormis les autres qui imposent leur regard aliénant, parce que collectif, social et inquisiteur, comme lors de l’épisode du ruban volé l’assemblée des « on » menée par le comte de La Roque, qui précipite dans les rets du démon un Jean-Jacques voleur, menteur et calomniateur, malgré lui. La modernité porte avec elle, et l’atomisation sociale et psychologique qui en constituent la substance, la renonciation à la charge de la faute, ce qui ne signifie nullement que la souffrance en ait disparu. « Ô Julie ! s’exclame saint-Preux dans La Nouvelle Héloïse, que c’est un fatal présent du ciel qu’une âme sensible ! ».

 

Si la réalité est évacuée, reste l’imaginaire comme possession de soi, en l’occurrence la littérature, le roman et les Vies illustres de Plutarque, où Rousseau trouve les racines de son esprit républicain, avec cependant l’expérience douloureuse de l’injustice subie quand il est accusé par la famille de son oncle d’avoir brisé un peigne, vers l’âge de dix ans. Il est à souligner néanmoins que cet épisode mêle intimement des souvenir affectifs singulièrement surévalués, et des bribes déclinées de rhétorique romaine, l’émotion et la déclamation grandiloquente étant pour ainsi dire l’une des marques de fabrique du discours de cette époque (mais heureusement pas la seule). Du reste, le « patriotisme » de Rousseau, contraire au cosmopolitisme de la haute société aristocratique, mais tout de même non sans parenté avec les convictions des philosophes dans leur ensemble, se nourrit de souvenirs prégnants d’une enfance assimilée au paradis perdu, et à l’amour, non partagé, pour une Genève qui constituera pour lui un modèle politique. Finalement, Rousseau ne s’est-il pas « fait » un personnage, un fantôme de spartiate qui ira épater l’aristo dans les salons, avant d’avoir recours, avant l’heure, aux forêts ? « Je me croyais Grec ou Romain », dit-il dans ses Confessions.

 

Car c’est bien là un paradoxe de Rousseau, qui n’en ai pas dépourvu : lui qui cherche la transparence, l’ostentation d’un moi épuré, sinon pur, un moi de vérité, un moi naturel, n’évolue vraiment à son aise que dans l’artifice imaginaire, la confection de rôles, l’aliénation de soi dans le fantasme. S’exhibe-t-il à Turin ? Il s’en sort, devant le gendarme qui l’a arrêté dans une cave, en prétendant être un jeune prince étranger en fuite. Plus tard, dans ses pérégrinations, il se rêvera maréchal de France ou trouvère. Ses « chimères » le portent même à changer de nom : prenant pour modèle un musicien aventurier, douteux et brillant, se nommant Venture, il substitue à son patronyme celui de Vaussore de Villeneuve, et se met en tête de passer pour un compositeur et directeur d’orchestre auprès des bonnes gens de Lausanne, qui ont vite fait de le démasquer. Sa sexualité s’inspire des mêmes détours, pour parvenir à la jouissance d’être : il ne peut, de son aveu même, parvenir au plaisir sans être fessé, comme il le fut à dix ans par Mlle Lambercier. L’écriture, notamment celle de son autobiographie, boucle technique, par un long détour retardateur, signe de ce signe qu’est la parole, opaque instrument qui sert paradoxalement à se cacher pour se révéler, pour trouver une nouvelle patrie de l’âme et de sa sensibilité, lui permet de revenir à lui-même, mais en se narrant, en racontant le roman de Jean-Jacques, que l’anamnèse met dans une perspective savamment orientée. Starobinsky souligne que Rousseau a retrouvé le mythe platonicien du retour d’exil de l’âme, en quête de l’absolu qu’est l’enfance lovée en nous. Mais singulier dé-couvrement que de se couvrir du vêtement de l’authenticité, qui risque parfois de se transformer en tunique de Nessus… L’acceptation du monde comme il est, de sa folie, si l’on veut, résignation amusée et quelque peu mélancolique parfois que l’on trouvait chez Marivaux dans son théâtre, et surtout dans ce savoureux plaidoyer pour le mensonge doux et jouissif qu’est Le Paysan parvenu, sans compter les romans libertins, tels ceux de Crébillon, est une sagesse que ne peut comprendre un Jean-Jacques raidi par l’obstacle qu’il voit partout dans la quête d’une coïncidence avec lui-même. Même lorsqu’il y parvient, comme sur l’Île Saint-Pierre, ou dans tel passage des Confession, face à un paysage sublime de montagne, ou dans tel bocage du Forez, c’est toujours avec quelque référence littéraire qu’il l’effectue, par exemple le passage des Alpes par Hannibal et ses éléphants, ou l’inévitable Astrée d’Honoré d’Urfé, ou bien en projetant sa subjectivité dans l’objet, comme le feront les romantiques. On a en effet parfois procédé abusivement à des comparaisons entre ces instants où le temps semble s’arrêter, y compris dans la mouvance phénoménale du monde, où la conscience semble s’oublier pour adhérer à l’instant essentiel, comme si l’être même était saisi par la contemplation, et le bouddhisme zazen, si prisé à notre époque. Mais c’est peut-être là une illusion. Car, outre la réfection par l’écriture de tels moments du passé, re-façonnage qui octroie à l’expérience, par le souvenir formalisé, un surcroît d’intensité (« Les objets font moins d’impression sur moi que leurs souvenirs », écrit-il), le bonheur de paix évoqué n’est qu’une fusion momentanée d’une subjectivité avec la perception, un miroir de soi-même, comme l’illustrait parfaitement cet autre rousseauiste qu’était Stendhal (il est vrai mâtiné de voltairianisme), qui écrivait, dans La Vie de Henri Brulard, que le paysage était comme un archet qui jouait sur son âme. Au demeurant, quelles descriptions concrètes avons-nous, qui donnent prise à la remarque, fondée néanmoins, que Rousseau nous fit voir la montagne ? Les passages qu’il chante, par exemple au début de La Nouvelle Héloïse, la montagne valaisanne (songeons à l’opéra italien, qu’il affectionnait) sont les relations, surtout, de ses dispositions intérieures, de ses réactions : le paysage, tout à coup délivré du « voile » qui s’était abattu après l’« injustice » de Bossey, est celui de son âme et de son cœur, et nous en dit plus sur Jean-Jacques que sur une « nature » dont il est ardu de saisir le concept, si tant est qu’il n’y en ait qu’un. Comme Rousseau l’expliquera dans sa troisième Lettre à Malesherbes, l’expérience intuitive ne rend pas vraiment nécessaire le dévoilement matériel de la nature – en quoi il rejoint Augustin et Pétrarque. En mêlant, comme par « magie », passivité et conscience aiguë, il parvient à nier l’espace, ou plutôt à s’épandre en lui, à fusionner avec le tout, à éprouver le sentiment de légèreté que donnerait un état de lévitation doublé d’une impression d’ubiquité. La « découverte » du paysage, comme chacun sait, est une construction. De Lorenzetti à Gainsborough, l’ouverture de l’œil à la beauté extérieure est une illusion, car cet organe de la vision est tourné davantage vers l’intériorité. En suivant l’histoire du paysage en Occident, nous pouvons y suivre la trajectoire d’une subjectivité de plus en plus envahissante, fondée surtout sur le sentiment, l’affectivité, la reconnaissance de l’individu singulier, et un sublime que Burke a explicité en 1757, cinq ans avant la parution de La Nouvelle Héloïse. Dans une société holiste, intégrale, où la subjectivité ne s’est pas détachée de l’Ordre universel, il n’existe pas de paysage.

 

Du reste, la question de savoir si le refus de l’argent, de l’industrie, du travail (considéré comme le premier signe de la suffisance et de l’orgueil), du Paris sophistiqué et mondain traduit un conservatisme virulent, est sans doute une interrogation viciée, dans la mesure où adhésion et rejets doivent s’appréhender en fonction d’une perspective historique donnée et d’un contexte déterminé qui procure sa véritable signification, toute relative, aux phénomènes culturels et sociaux qu’il inclut. Ainsi la critique « écologique » de la technique menée par Heidegger présente une autre profondeur qu’une recherche hédoniste d’un coin vert pour y passer sa retraite. De même la vision négative que Rousseau détient de l’argent est-elle plus proche de l’hégélianisme de gauche et des Manuscrits de 44 du jeune Marx à la recherche de l’authenticité humaine, que du Marx de la maturité. Rousseau relate ses réticences à entrer dans une pâtisserie, par répugnance à compliquer une relation qui aurait dû être très simple, « naturelle ». Le larcin sera, pour lui, plus moral que le truchement faux d’une monnaie qui s’apparente au commerce langagier. Quoiqu’il ne soit évidemment pas faux de mettre l’accent sur la dimension aliénante de l’argent (et du langage), il est aventureux d’en faire un geste conservateur, ou même révolutionnaire. Telle posture obéit souvent à un conformisme imitatif ou paresseux. Un bobo actuel qui, en villégiature dans sa maison de campagne, proteste contre le bruit des tracteurs ou des tronçonneuses, est-il pour autant « conservateur », lui qui, peut-être, aimera conduire un tout terrain ? Nietzsche pensait que l’aristocratie européenne avait entamé son déclin au début du XVIIe siècle, et que le signe de cette décadence était l’entichement pour la pastorale, cette fuite utopique vers un imaginaire pacifié, romanesque et amollissant. Louis XV avait montré du goût pour le Devin du village. Le penchant de Marie-Antoinette pour les Bergeries n’était somme toute qu’une annonce subliminale de la tragédie à venir : en optant pour les moutons, on se livrait à la fureur d’un Danton à la chevelure léonine. L’expression superlative de la subjectivité, ombre du baroque, est le pendant de la construction mathématique et mécaniste d’un univers désormais accessible à la raison. Honoré d’Urfé et l’opéra offrent un parallèle avec Galilée et Descartes, de la même façon que le préromantisme, dont Rousseau est une figure, est le double inversé du rationalisme des Lumières. Mais au fond, ces deux pôles représentent les deux orientations d’un pendule historique qui ne possède qu’une seule et même finalité, celle, occidentale, de mettre fin, un jour, au vieux monde. La Raison instrumentale et le moi hyperbolique sont deux expressions d’une modernité agissante, deux machines qui œuvrent de concert. La Révolution, par exemple, qu’on a voulu considérer comme l’immixtion de la Raison dans l’histoire, est une formidable explosion de passion romantique.

 

L’adoption du style romain, et des mœurs spartiates, n’étonne pas. Ce siècle, dont l’élite cultivée a appris la rhétorique oratoire républicaine chez les jésuites – il n’est qu’à lire le discours du Vieillard tahitien dans le Supplément au voyage de Bougainville, de Diderot -, même si Rousseau fut un autodidacte – mais ses Discours sont des exercices scolaires, des  compositions de concours – est imprégné d’Antique. À l’époque du marxisme triomphant, un débat d’école a parfois mis aux prises ceux qui pensaient que les idées ont quelque importance dans l’orientation des événements, et leurs adversaires, qui privilégient la puissance de l’action en considérant que les références idéologiques sont des habillements, ou des servantes de la politique pratique. Au fond, l’éclatement de la révolution fut une incroyable expérimentation, puisqu’elle sembla illustrer ce que l’on avait mis un siècle à élaborer théoriquement. Il ne faut pas croire pour autant que les acteurs d’un combat qui changeait de figure à une vitesse extrême, et qui, dans le sang et les cris, s’éliminaient les uns et les autres de façon expéditive, tenaient des livres dans une main pendant que la seconde arborait la pique. Une idée quitte le papier imprimé pour se diffuser dans la société, quitte à se diluer et à perdre de sa profondeur, pour parvenir, de manière plus ou moins confuse jusqu’à la conscience des hommes, à qui elle apporte une certaine compréhension de ce qu’ils font. Que seraient devenus Voltaire et Rousseau s’ils avaient vécu jusqu’à la terreur ? Voltaire, anglophile, aurait peut-être été emporté avec les monarchiens, à moins qu’il eût partagé le sort des Girondins, quoiqu’il eût été plus vraisemblable qu’il fût resté à l’abri à la frontière suisse. Rousseau est l’un des rares républicains des Lumières, un membre du tiers état.  Dans  son Discours sur l’origine de l’inégalité…, paraphrasant le Montaigne des Cannibales, mais avec une indignation violente que le Bordelais n’avait pas, il s’exclame : « Il est manifestement contre la loi de nature, de quelque manière qu’on la définisse, qu’un enfant commande à un vieillard, qu’un imbécile conduise un homme sage et qu’une poignée de gens regorge de superfluités, tandis que la multitude affamée manque du nécessaire ». Cette rhétorique enflammée, tout à fait contraire au conservatisme, lequel, du moins si l’on s’en tient à la surface des choses, a justement pour fonction de persuader que les « absurdités » relèvent d’une haute sagesse alliée à la folie des hommes, ne pouvait qu’aller droit au cœur des sans-culottes. Mais notre Genevois aurait-il supporté la promiscuité des militants, lui, le solitaire, l’ermite ? Au même moment, Henri Beyle, qui avait onze ans, et qui venait, sous l’œil horrifié de sa famille, de manifester la plus grande joie à l’exécution du roi, en qui il voyait une doublure de son père, fréquentait avec écœurement le cercle grenoblois des Jacobins, avec lesquels il se jugeait en parfait accord politique, mais qui avaient le défaut d’être sales et de puer. Pour jauger de l’influence de Rousseau, il ne faut pas s’arrêter au seul Robespierre, qui était en effet rousseauiste. C’est au niveau des sectionnaires des clubs, chez les Montagnards de base, et surtout les enragés, qu’il s’agit de le retrouver, et surtout après le 2 juin 93, où la démocratie directe chère à l’admirateur de Genève semblait s’imposer. On y découvre des comportements de « gauche », la revendication de l’égalité, du « maximum », c’est-à-dire l’expression du ressentiment social, ainsi qu’une antique mémoire des soulèvements populaires français, fondés sur une vision utopique, la guillotine étant comme une déesse vorace, Kali en action, rendant tout le monde à une commune condition nivelée. Mais il y a aussi la tentation putschiste, l’antiparlementarisme que l’on rencontrera  le 18 Brumaire, et qui, là, s’exprime en menaçant les représentants du peuple avec les bouches de canons. C’est peut-être, paradoxalement, dans la relation fusionnelle entre un empereur et la France que s’exprimera le mieux cette volonté populaire qui irrigue le Contrat social. De même Valmy avait fait prendre conscience que la Nation existait, et combattait. Être « patriote » désignait son appartenance. C’était une idée nouvelle, comme le bonheur. Elle n’était nullement conservatrice. La nation, le patriotisme seront d’abord de « gauche », avant d’être, après l’affaire Dreyfus, l’apanage de la droite.

 

Rousseau « anarchiste » ? « Fasciste » ? Peut-être les deux. Mais en tout cas furieusement moderne, et même postmoderne. Edmund Burke, dans son essai polémique sur la Révolution française, s’en prit aux idéologues des Lumières qui, répudiant tout legs historique, toute tradition, toute mémoire sédimentée du passé, avec ses préjugés, ses croyances, ses certitudes, fondaient la nouvelle société sur le mythe du progrès, et surtout sur une vision atomique de la société, théorisée par Hobbes, sur une assemblée d’individus libres qui décidaient de se lier par un contrat. La critique du conservateur anglais est d’une pertinence inégalée. Il ne s’agit pas de reprendre son argumentation, bien qu’on aurait tout intérêt à observer de près l’éducation que prône Rousseau dans L’Émile, apprentissage qui est censé se passer des sciences, de l’Histoire et des livres.

 

Dans son dernier livre consacré aux « pédagogues » (Essai historique sur l’utopie pédagogique, Éditions du Cerf), Jean de Viguerie analyse L’Émile ou de l’éducation (1762). Il relève que les personnages de ce traité-fiction sont abstraits : Émile n’a « ni parents, ni frères et sœurs », et le gouverneur « n’a pas de nom », ni de passé apparent. Le propre du « conservateur » étant une prédilection particulière pour la généalogie, la filiation, la lignée, Rousseau s’inscrit manifestement dans ce qui lui est contraire. Le but de l’ouvrage, en effet, n’est pas de préserver un héritage, mais de « façonner » un être. On est dans le constructivisme pur. L’« éducateur » a, de ce fait, un rôle majeur, puisqu’il est le maître de sa créature. Nul moyen d’échapper à cette emprise, à l’opposé de l’être inséré dans une tradition, socle solide à partir duquel il est en mesure d’affronter l’altérité du monde. Tout au contraire, Émile est le jouet des lubies de son formateur, comme le sont les élèves de maintenant. Pire, il est manipulé : « Qu’il croie toujours être le maître, enseigne Jean-Jacques au gouverneur, et que ce soit vous qui le soyez. Il n’y a point d’assujettissement si parfait que celui qui garde l’apparence de la liberté; on captive ainsi la volonté même » ». Le pédagogue marie entre autre sa marionnette à vingt-deux ans, à la jeune fille qu’il lui a choisie. Après ces préceptes d’un impeccable cynisme, et qui sont susceptibles d’être transférés dans le champ politique, dans une démocratie directe, par exemple, Rousseau s’attache à faire de son élève un parfait imbécile. Il suivra les mouvements de sa nature, sans plus, puis apprendra un métier manuel. Le savoir sera répudié comme inutile : « J’enseigne, dit-il, un art très long, très pénible, c’est celui d’être ignorant ». Il y parvient fort bien, et, en refusant les livres, « il refuse l’héritage que la cité porte en elle, l’héritage transmis par la tradition et par les livres », vouant le jeune Émile à une solitude intellectuelle, culturelle fatale. Solitude qui est le lot de l’homme moderne, l’exil de la table rase.

 

Comme Descartes rejetait l’illusion de la perception, Rousseau, en effet, dans  son Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, opuscule au demeurant remarquable par ses intuitions anthropologiques et ethnologiques, que Diderot fera siennes dans son Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville, commence par « écarter les faits », et s’en tient « à des raisonnements hypothétiques et conditionnels ». Autrement dit, il refuse l’apport de la tradition historiographique pour aller aux principes. Concrètement, jusqu’à l’innocence qui subsiste sous les strates de vices que le Mal a déposés dans ce temps où l’homme s’est écarté de l’état de nature. Rousseau, qui n’est pas à un paradoxe près, est un patriote qui refuse le passé. Comme l’utopie contemporaine, libérale et mondialiste prétend la réaliser, il rêve d’une fin de l’Histoire. Elle est une longue série de souffrances, le triomphe de l’injustice, de l’inégalité, de l’esclavage et du mensonge, lequel est porté par l’opacité d’un langage qui a rompu avec la langue originelle, proche de la musique. De ce fait, l’art de la « tromperie » est aussi supprimé : l’étude des langues, des humanités, de la rhétorique est exclue.  Rhétorique dont Rousseau était parvenu à répandre le charme dans toutes les bonnes familles de l’aristocratie française, bien heureuse de pouvoir frissonner ou pleurer sur les souffrances de l’âme sensible !

 

L’être idéal est donc déraciné, détaché de tout lien autre que ceux qu’il s’est donnés, ou qu’on a fait en sorte qu’il acquière. Livré au flot des sensations, qui le portent à la connaissance de lui-même, perception en premier lieu empirique, mais aussi imprégnée d’une potion onirique envoûtante, toujours en passe de devenir poison, pharmakon portatif à l’usage de l’individu en quémande de place sociale et de reconnaissance, Jean-Jacques est atteint de dromomanie, d’errance frénétique, sa « manie ambulante », comme il le dit lui-même. En effet, partir, c’est se délivrer des contingences de la vie sociale, c’est s’abstraire des rets de la « politesse », des civilités contraintes, et c’est aussi s’arracher à un passé, sans avoir encore abouti à une condition qui reste à l’état de projet, ou plutôt d’hypothétique destination. Il y a du bouchon qui flotte dans le voyage, surtout s’il obéit aux caprices de la fantaisie et des plaisirs du changement. Le monde en est livré, délivré, libre, comme une page blanche offerte à l’imagination créatrice. La réalité y perd son poids d’angoisse. La solitude n’y est plus pénible. Jean-Jacques se trouve au « pays des chimères ». Ses vertiges, au bord des gouffres, lui procurent les délices du vide. Et, à pieds, il parcourt des centaines de kilomètres, quitte à repousser avec horreur les parcelles de réalité déplaisante qui, malgré tout, parviennent quand même à égratigner ses rêves, comme dans le Forez, ou à Vevey, le lieu-même où se situe le cadre de La Nouvelle Héloïse !, où il trouve étrangement que « le pays et le peuple dont il est couvert ne [lui avaient]  jamais paru faits l’un pour l’autre ». La patrie de Jean-Jacques peut être dépeuplée, pourvu qu’elle soit pittoresque.

 

Bien que Baudelaire semblât donner raison à Rousseau, en enjoignant, dans son article « Prométhée délivré », de ne jamais  confondre « les fantômes de la raison avec les fantômes de l’imagination [car] ceux-là sont des équations, et ceux-ci des êtres et des souvenirs » – et il affirmait, à la ligne précédente : « Or, la grande poésie est essentiellement bête, elle croit, et c’est ce qui fait sa gloire et sa force », toutes remarques qui siéent parfaitement à Rousseau, qui fut un immense poète, il n’avait pas de mots assez durs pour ridiculiser – au même titre que George Sand, cette « vache à lait de la littérature » (comme l’écrivait plaisamment Nietzsche) – un spécimen quasiment pur de plébéien, de révolté démoniaque, représentant d’une modernité démocratique détestée pour qui, disait-il dans ses « Notes nouvelles sur Edgar Poe », « une sensibilité blessée et prompte à la révolte [tenait] lieu de philosophie ». Le poète des Fleurs du Mal partageait le même mépris que Hegel pour « la soi-disant philosophie » selon qui « la vérité est ce que chacun laisse s’élever de son cœur, de son sentiment et de son enthousiasme sur les objets moraux, particulièrement sur l’État, le gouvernement, la constitution ». Et Hegel ajoutait, dans la préface des Principes de la philosophie du droit : « Cette platitude consiste essentiellement à faire reposer la science, non pas sur le développement des pensées et des concepts, mais sur le sentiment immédiat et l’imagination contingente, et à dissoudre dans la bouillie du cœur, de l’amitié et de l’enthousiasme cette riche articulation intime du monde moral qu’est l’État, son architecture rationnelle […] ».

 

Il est vraisemblable que Rousseau aurait fait bon ménage avec les « Indignés » actuels. Mais, plus largement, nous retrouvons chez lui les traits du Narcisse postmoderne, que Christopher Lasch a analysés, ce produit du monde néolibéral, sensualiste, hédoniste, individualiste, rétif aux contraintes, à la hiérarchie, au principe de réalité, pétri de contradictions, son égocentrisme, ses « illusions sporadiques d’omnipotence » ayant besoin, notamment, d’autrui « pour s’estimer lui-même ». Lasch ajoute, comme pour expliquer la vocation d’écrivain de Jean-Jacques, et ses justifications copieuses : « il ne peut vivre sans un public qui l’adore ». Mirabeau fait cette reproche à Rousseau : « Vous avez beaucoup vécu dans l’opinion des autres », et ce dernier : « J’aimerais mieux être oublié de tout le genre humain que regardé comme un homme ordinaire ».  Mais tout le monde n’est pas Rousseau, dût-on écrire sa vie.

 

Comme lui, le Narcisse postmoderne, ayant refusé le péché originel, « est hanté, non par la culpabilité [Rousseau aura toujours une explication idoine pour la transférer sur la société – y compris après l’abandon de ses enfants] mais par l’anxiété ». Pour la combattre, pour ainsi dire de manière thérapeutique, il s’agit de « vivre dans l’instant […] vivre pour soi-même, et non pour ses ancêtres ou la postérité ». C’est pourquoi « […] la dépréciation du passé est devenue l’un des symptômes les plus significatifs de la crise culturelle […] ». La quête de la reconnaissance presse d’« […] établir des rapports authentiques avec autrui », ce qui, paradoxalement, rend propice la prolifération de cet artifice qu’est la « rhétorique de l’authenticité ». Le refus des codes, des conventions, et d’une certaine « hypocrisie » (comédie, jeu théâtral) inhérente à la vie sociale a pour conséquence une régression vers l’enfance, sur le mode de l’expression instinctive, et la tentation de se perdre dans le sentiment océanique de la vie, décliné à l’infini par le marché des nouvelles spiritualités, qui offre ce qu’Emerson appelle « une relation primordiale avec l’univers » », et aussi par un tourisme, un nomadisme avide de perte de soi dans un univers « exotique » (ou dans les aéroports), qui n’est en fait que le fantasme d’êtres inquiets, de cette grosse classe moyenne qui a colonisé la société.

 

Certes, l’éthique de Rousseau n’encourageait pas a priori à un « retrait de la chose publique », et la Révolution française, ainsi que les tendances politiques qui se sont réclamées de lui, l’attestent. Mais une pensée véritable, si tant est qu’elle soit toujours homogène, renferme une logique interne qui, tôt ou tard, manifeste ce qui était latent en elle. C’est pour cette raison qu’il n’est pas absurde d’avancer que notre monde est devenu rousseauiste, comme jadis il était chrétien.


Claude Bourrinet


Article printed from Europe Maxima: http://www.europemaxima.com

URL to article: http://www.europemaxima.com/?p=2517

00:05 Publié dans Philosophie | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) | Tags : rousseau, postmodernité, philosophie, 18ème siècle | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

mardi, 13 décembre 2011

Lumière de Herder

Lumière de Herder

En cette période de montée des nationalismes – voire des « ethnicismes » – en Europe comme ailleurs, les ethnologues, qui redoutaient naguère d’être considérés comme des suppôts du colonialisme, éprouvent souvent aujourd’hui, à l’inverse, l’angoisse d’être, malgré eux, de par la nature et l’objet même de leur discipline, des apôtres du tribalisme, des défenseurs inconscients d’un romantisme contre-révolutionnaire exaltant les valeurs particularistes contre l’universalisme des Droits de l’homme et du citoyen.

En penseur, qu’on a pris récemment, un peu rapidement, pour l’emblème même de ce tribalisme (1), semble, au contraire, être un de ceux dont l’œuvre peut aider à lever cette angoisse, en ouvrant le chemin à un rationalisme rénové, apte à comprendre le lien qui, à l’est de l’Europe en particulier, mais à l’ouest parfois aussi, unit nationalisme et recherche de la démocratie. Ce penseur, c’est Johann Gottfried Herder.

 

Herder et l’Aufklärung

 

Herder, honni par Joseph de Maistre (2) et vénéré, au contraire, par Edgar Quinet, Thomas Mazaryk et d’autres grandes figures de la démocratie européenne et américaine, est un héritier éclatant de la pensée des Lumières, de l’Aufklärung du XVIIe siècle, même s’il la critique parfois. En fait cette critique est une critique « de gauche », dirait-on aujourd’hui, et non « de droite », comme celle de Maistre ou Bonald. Comme l’a écrit Ernst Cassirer, en Herder, la philosophie des Lumières se dépasse elle-même et atteint son « sommet spirituel » (Cassirer 1970 : 237).

 

Effectivement, il n’est guère de thèmes fondamentaux de sa pensée, du relativisme à la philosophie de l’histoire, du naturalisme au déisme, etc., dont on ne retrouve les antécédents, au XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècle, chez les meilleurs représentants de la philosophie des Lumières, qu’il s’agisse de Saint-Evremont ou de Voltaire, de l’abbé Du Bos ou de David Hume, d’Adam Fergusson ou de D. Diderot. Y compris le thème du Nationalgeist. Y compris celui du relativisme (je préférerais dire « perspectivisme »).

 

Ce n’est pas Herder, mais Hume qui, dans ses Essais de morale, écrit : « Vous n’avez point eu assez d’égard aux mœurs et aux usages de différents siècles. Voudriez-vous juger un Grec ou un Romain d’après les lois d’Angleterre ? Écoutez-les se défendre par leurs propres maximes, vous vous prononcerez ensuite. Il n’y a pas de mœurs, quelque innocentes et quelque raisonnables qu’elles soient, que l’on ne puisse rendre odieuses ou ridicules lorsqu’on les jugera d’après un modèle inconnu aux auteurs » (Hume 1947 : 192). Il est vrai que ce souci d’équité ethnologique ne signifie pas, pour Hume, qu’il ne faut pas souhaiter l’effacement de différences nationales. Mais, dans l’idéal, Herder le souhaite pareillement. S’il lui arrive de faire l’éloge des « préjugés », c’est-à-dire des présupposés culturels attachés à telle ou telle nation ou civilisation, c’est uniquement dans la mesure où cela peut donner aux pensées la force et l’effectivité qui risquent de leur manquer lorsqu’elles s’efforcent d’atteindre l’humain et l’universel seulement par un refus abstrait du particulier. L’idée est d’ailleurs dans Rousseau. Elle n’empêche pas de poser que « l’amour de l’humanité est véritablement plus que l’amour de la patrie et de la cité » (Herder 1964 : 327).

 

Quant au Nationalgeist, Montesquieu le nomme « esprit du peuple », « caractère de la nation ». Même chez Voltaire on trouve les notions de « génie d’une langue » et de « génie national » (3). Il est vrai que, chez eux, ce ne sont sans doute pas des principes originels, mais qu’ils dépendent d’autres facteurs historiques. Cependant, il n’en est pas autrement chez Herder. En fait, Herder voit dans le peuple ou la nation un effet statistique, produit par un ensemble de particularités individuelles, modelées par un même milieu, un même climat, des circonstances historiques communes, des emprunts similaires à d’autres peuples et la tradition qui en résulte. La nation n’apparaît comme une entité substantielle qu’à un regard éloigné, qu’à une vue d’ensemble. Herder est, au fond, sur le plan de la théorie sociale, comme il l’est d’ailleurs sur le plan éthique, un individualiste (4). La primauté de la société ne signifie rien d’autre, chez Herder, que l’idée que l’histoire ne peut être que celle des peuples, celle du peuple, et non celle des rois et de leurs ministres ; elle ne peut être que celle de la civilisation. Et, de ce point de vue, Herder est un voltairien qui ne s’ignore pas…

 

Une anthropologie de la diversité

 

Il y a cependant deux sources majeures de la pensée de Herder, sans lesquelles il n’est pas facile de la comprendre, et toutes deux ont eu une énorme influence sur l’Aufklärung allemande : ce sont l’œuvre de Leibniz et celle de Rousseau.

 

Sans Rousseau, il n’est pas possible de comprendre la logique qui unit le rationalisme de Herder à son anthropologie de la diversité. C’est Rousseau qui, le premier sans doute, nous a fait comprendre que la raison et la liberté étaient une seule et même chose. Herder lui emboîte le pas. Précurseur de Bolk et de Géza Roheim (5), théoricien de l’immaturité essentielle de l’homme ou, tout au moins, de son indétermination, qui fait sa liberté, mais qui est également la raison même de sa raison, Herder montre clairement que la diversité des cultures est la conséquence directe de l’existence de cette raison, qui n’est pas une faculté distincte, mais, en quelque sorte, l’être même de l’homme. La différence entre l’homme et l’animal n’est pas une différence de facultés, mais, comme il le dit dans le Traité sur l’origine de la langue, une différence totale de direction et de développement de toutes ses facultés (1977 : 71).

 

Mais si la raison n’est pas une faculté séparée et isolée, elle est présente dès l’enfance, dès l’origine, dans le moindre effort de langage. La raison herderienne est une raison du sens, non une raison du calcul, une raison vichienne, non une raison cartésienne, mais c’est une raison tout de même. Et fort importante, puisque la seconde ne va pas sans la première ; et puis parce que la raison cartésienne ne fonde ni morale ni droit.

 

Herder, comme Vico, a pressenti à quoi conduisait un certain cartésianisme. S’il n’existe pas un trésor de sens, où chacun puisse puiser ce qui le fait cet être unique et, en même temps, de part en part dicible (donc, par là même, en qui subsiste toujours du non-dit), qu’est un être humain, alors on parvient rapidement à l’humpty-dumptisme, qui est la pire des tyrannies. Chacun va décréter le sens des mots dans la mesure du pouvoir dont il dispose. Il n’y aura plus aucun contrat possible, aucune entente, sinon par le pouvoir despotique de quelque Léviathan. La politique de Descartes, ce ne pourrait être, effectivement, dans ces conditions, que le monstre froid que décrit Hobbes et où c’est, effectivement, le souverain qui décide du sens des mots. C’est bien ce monstre que les grands hommes d’Etat du XVIIe siècle cherchent à réaliser, à commencer par le cardinal de Richelieu. Cela aboutit finalement à la fameuse « langue de bois », même si cela ne commence que par d’apparemment innocentes académies.

 

Un eudémonisme relativiste

 

L’idée de l’essentielle variabilité humaine conduit à une éthique d’une grande souplesse, puisque, pour Herder, la raison est d’abord inhérente à la sensibilité ; et donnant pour fin à l’homme le bonheur, elle en modèle la figure idéale en fonction de la diversité des besoins et des sentiments. L’infinie variété des circonstances produit aussi une infinie variété des aspirations et le bonheur, qui est le but de notre existence, ne peut être atteint partout de la même façon : « Même l’image de la félicité change avec chaque état de choses et chaque climat – car qu’est-elle, sinon la somme de satisfactions de désirs, réalisations de buts et de doux triomphes des besoins qui tous se modèlent d’après le pays, l’époque, le lieu ? » C’est que « la nature humaine… n’est pas un vaisseau capable de contenir une félicité absolue…, elle n’en absorbe pas moins partout autant de félicité qu’elle le peut : argile ductile, prenant selon les situations, les besoins et les oppressions les plus diverses, des formes également diverses » (Herder 1964 : 183).

 

Il y a donc chez Herder une sorte d’eudémonisme relativiste que Kant ne pourra supporter, et qui signifie que, pour Herder, l’individu n’est pas fait pour l’État ni, d’ailleurs, pour l’espèce. Les générations antérieures ne sont pas faites pour les dernières venues, ni les dernières venues pour les futures. Ainsi le sens de la vie humaine n’est pas dans le progrès de l’espèce, mais dans la possibilité pour chacun, à toute époque, de réaliser son humanité, quelle que soit la société dans laquelle il vit et la culture propre à cette société. Il y a là un humanisme qui s’oppose à celui de Kant, pour qui nous devons accepter que les générations antérieures sacrifient leur bonheur aux générations ultérieures ; celles-ci, seules, pourront en jouir. Herder, au contraire, pense que chaque époque a son bonheur propre ; chaque époque, chaque peuple et même chaque individu. Car chaque période, mais aussi chaque individu forme, pour ainsi dire, un tout qui a sa fin en soi. C’est pourquoi Herder en vient même à récuser tout finalisme dans l’explication historique, de peur d’avoir à subordonner le destin des individus au cours de l’histoire globale. Dieu n’agit dans l’histoire que par des lois générales naturelles, non téléologiques, et par l’effet de notre propre liberté.

 

Des monades dans l’histoire

 

Mais Herder est aussi un leibnizien. C’est dire que son individualisme n’est pas atomistique, mais monadique ; ce qui signifie qu’il a un caractère dynamique et que l’individu y intègre l’universel qui est dans la totalité organique de l’histoire.

 

Ce que dit Ernst Cassirer de la conception leibnizienne de l’individuel éclaire la conception herderienne :

 

« Chaque substance individuelle, au sein du système leibnizien, est, non pas seulement une partie, un fragment, un morceau de l’univers, mais cet univers même, vu d’un certain lieu et dans une perspective particulière… toute substance, tout en conservant sa propre permanence et en développant ses représentations selon sa propre loi, se rapporte cependant, dans le cours même de cette création individuelle, à la totalité des autres et s’accorde en quelque façon avec elle » (Cassirer 1970 : 65).

 

Pourtant, il y a, dans Une autre philosophie de l’histoire (Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte), un passage où Herder semble nous dénier la possibilité d’être, comme il dit, « la quintessence de tous les temps et de tous les peuples ». En fait, il admet que nous avons en nous toutes les dispositions, toutes les aptitudes, toutes les potentialités qui se sont manifestées comme réalités achevées dans les diverses civilisations du passé. De ce point de vue, il y a, en chacun de nous une égale quantité de forces et un même dosage de ces forces. Mais un leibnizien ne sépare pas l’individualité des circonstances qui modèlent son développement. L’individualité est dans la continuité d’un développement qui intègre les circonstances qui permettent à cette individualité de se manifester.

 

Or chaque civilisation, chaque culture réalise un des possibles de l’humain et en occulte d’autres (6). Au cours de l’histoire, il se peut donc que l’ensemble des virtualités de la nature humaine se trouvent réalisées, mais tour à tour, non simultanément. Chaque moment, cependant, fruit d’une égale nécessité, possède un égal mérite. Cela ne contredit pas l’idée d’un progrès d’ensemble, mais va contre un évolutionnisme pour lequel l’humain ne se réalise pleinement qu’au terme de l’histoire (ou de la préhistoire, pour parler le langage d’un certain marxisme).

 

Herder utilise, au fond, le principe auquel Haeckel donnera son nom en le formulant en termes biologiques, mais qui est aussi la maxime d’une vieille métaphore : la phylogénèse se retrouve dans l’ontogénèse ; et on comprend à partir de là comment il peut concilier progression – Fortgang – et égalité de valeur. L’enfance vaut par elle-même, elle a ses propres valeurs, son propre bonheur ; l’adolescence, de même. Mais c’est quand même l’adulte qui est l’homme achevé, l’homme dans sa maturité.

 

Mais, mieux encore, l’égalité herderienne des cultures et des époques trouve sa justification dans ce que Michel Serres (1968 : 265) appelle, chez Leibniz, « la notion d’altérité qualitative dans une stabilité des degrés » : « En passant du plaisir de la musique à celui de la peinture, dit Leibniz, le degré des plaisirs pourra être le même, sans que le dernier ait pour lui d’autre avantage que celui de la nouveauté… Ainsi le meilleur peut être changé en un autre qui ne lui cède point, et qui ne le surpasse point. » Il n’en reste pas moins qu’« il y aura toujours entre eux un ordre, et le meilleur ordre qui soit possible ». S’il est vrai qu’« une partie de la suite peut être égalée par une autre partie de la même suite », néanmoins « prenant toute la suite des choses, le meilleur n’a point d’égal (7) ». Mais on peut aller beaucoup plus loin, et dire que, de même qu’il y a équipotence entre, non seulement la suite des nombres pairs et la suite des carrés, mais la suite des carrés, par exemple, et la suite des entiers, le meilleur a même puissance dans une partie de la suite et dans l’ordre du tout.

 

Chez Herder, il se peut donc que chaque phase ou chaque époque soit la meilleure, que chaque culture soit la meilleure, mais qu’il y ait, en plus, un meilleur dans l’ordre de succession, c’est-à-dire un ordre progressif, où le meilleur n’est atteint que dans le progrès même, en tant que succession bien ordonnée. Au-delà, on peut dire aussi que l’universel – un universel dynamique, celui de l’histoire comme totalité non fermée – est présent dans la singularité des cultures et des individus.

 

Inversement, d’ailleurs, l’universel n’existe qu’incarné dans des singularités historiques. C’est le cas, par exemple, du christianisme, religion universelle par excellence, mais qui n’existe que sous telle ou telle forme, particulière à telle ou telle époque, à telle ou telle civilisation : « Il était radicalement impossible que cette odeur délicate pût exister, être appliquée, sans se mêler à des matières plus terrestres dont elle a besoin pour lui servir en quelque sorte de véhicule. Tels furent naturellement la tournure d’esprit de chaque peuple, ses mœurs et ses lois, ses penchants et ses facultés… plus le parfum est subtil, plus il tendrait par lui-même à se volatiliser, plus aussi il faut le mélanger pour l’utiliser » (Herder 1964 : 209-211).

 

Un patriotisme cosmopolite

 

La présence de l’universel dans le singulier et le fait que le singulier et l’universel ne puissent être séparés rend compte de la possibilité, pour Herder, d’être à la fois cosmopolite et patriote, comme le furent ultérieurement quelques-uns de ses grands disciples. Le cosmopolite selon Herder n’est donc pas l’adepte d’un cosmopolitisme abstrait qui s’étonne de ne pas retrouver en chacun l’homme universel qu’il prétend lui-même incarner. Le cosmopolitisme de Herder est un cosmopolitisme de la compréhension entre les peuples et entre les cultures, c’est un cosmopolitisme « dialogique ».

 

De 1765 (année où il prononce à Riga son discours, Avons-nous encore un public et une patrie commune comme les Anciens ?) jusqu’à la fin de sa vie, Herder gardera cette position humaniste, hostile au particularisme aveugle, favorable seulement à un patriotisme qui ouvre sur l’universel. Herder récuse le patriotisme exclusif des anciens, qui regarde l’étranger comme un ennemi. Il veut, quant à lui, voir et aimer tous les peuples en l’humanité, dont il dit qu’elle est notre seule vraie patrie.

 

Il est vrai que cette vertu d’humanité, il pensera finalement que le peuple allemand sera, dans la période de l’histoire qui vient, celui qui l’incarnera probablement le mieux et que son aptitude à la philosophie en fait un excellent porteur d’universalité ; ce qui n’est pas si mal vu, si l’on pense à l’éclatante lignée de penseurs que l’Allemagne produira, de Kant à Marx et au-delà. De Lessing, Herder et Kant, avec Schiller et Goethe, Herzen (1843) dira que leur but commun fut de « développer les caractères nationaux pour leur donner un sens universel ».

 

On pourrait en dire autant de la génération suivante, celle des romantiques, pour laquelle on affiche quelquefois en France un bien curieux mépris. De Tieck, Novalis, Achim von Arnim, Clemens Brentano, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1890 : 336) écrivait : « Ce n’est pas un sentiment de patriotisme qui poussait ces écrivains à exhumer les trésors de l’Allemagne du Moyen Age. Le contraire est plutôt vrai : ce fut l’Allemagne du Moyen Age, retrouvée et passionnément aimée, qui réveilla en eux le patriotisme. Encore n’arrivèrent-ils à l’Allemagne que par un long et capricieux circuit, en faisant le tour du monde. Ils se seraient reproché, sans nul doute, de s’enfermer dans l’étude des antiquités germaniques. Elle eût offert à elle seule un champ de travail assez vaste ; mais les Romantiques ne s’y attardèrent point. Ils le parcoururent un peu, comme on l’a dit, en chevaliers errants. Leur humeur vagabonde, d’accord avec leur cosmopolitisme, les emportait bientôt ailleurs. »

 

Herder est préromantique dans la mesure où il y a, dans le romantisme, une sorte d’universalisme du populaire, où l’universalisme se concilie fort bien avec le pluralisme. En fait, ce qu’on retrouve dans le pluralisme littéraire de Goethe, de Herder et des romantiques d’Allemagne et d’ailleurs, c’est la volonté de réhabiliter le sensible et de fonder une esthétique, au sens large et au sens étroit. Peut-être même faut-il dire que le romantisme est là d’abord, et, de ce point de vue, il est déjà chez le Kant de la Critique du jugement, voire même chez Leibniz.

 

Mais cette réhabilitation du sensible est, en même temps et du même coup, une réhabilitation du sens, c’est-à-dire de la langue. Tout part de là chez Herder et tout y aboutit ; chez Herder comme aussi, par exemple chez Schlegel. Il s’agit d’édifier une science où l’on puisse vivre. Mais cette science est déjà présente dans la culture populaire, dans les cultures populaires. Cette réhabilitation du sensible s’intéresse donc au « populaire » en général, à l’« ethnique » si l’on veut, mais aussi à autrui, à l’autre en tant que tel, car autrui, c’est d’abord du sensible et il n’y a pas de monde sensible sans autrui. Autrui n’est accessible que comme sensible, et ce sensible ne peut être réduit. Feuerbach, de ce point de vue, est dans la postérité du romantisme, et le romantisme est peut-être ce qui a rendu possible l’ethnologie.

 

Herder « gauchiste »

 

Herder, cependant, reste un Aufklärer, mais, nous l’avons dit, un Aufklärer de gauche ; de gauche, et même d’extrême gauche. Et c’est la raison pour laquelle certains croient voir en lui un adversaire des Lumières, voire même un contre-révolutionnaire, ce qui constitue un assez joli contresens.

 

Il y a une autre raison de cette méprise, chez les auteurs français tout au moins : c’est que Herder se réclame du christianisme. C’est même un homme d’Église, un pasteur ; à l’époque (1784) où il écrit les Ideen (Herder 1962), il est évêque de Weimar. Or les Français pensent généralement que les Lumières sont nécessairement antichrétiennes, ce qui est une grave erreur historique, surtout en ce qui concerne l’Allemagne. Herder, en fait, est dans la tradition allemande de la Guerre des paysans, au temps de la Réforme, guerre dont l’idéologie fut celle d’un protestantisme populaire, millénariste et extrêmement avancé sur le plan social. C’est de Herder que Goethe tire l’idée de Goetz von Berlichingen. Mais on retrouve la même attitude chez le Herder tardif des Ideen, lorsqu’il fait l’éloge des hussites, de anabaptistes, des mennonites, etc., après avoir fait celui des bogomiles et des cathares pour les mêmes raisons. On le voit bien, dans ce chapitre des Ideen, où il se situe (Herder 1962 : 483-489). Cette position « gauchiste » de Herder aboutit effectivement à une critique de la philosophie des Lumières sur un certain nombre de points : théorie mystificatrice du contrat social, goût du despotisme « éclairé », tolérance envers l’esclavagisme et l’exploitation coloniale, avec sa brutalité destructrice, racisme, etc. Il s’agit bien d’une critique « de gauche », dont nous avons déjà vu une manifestation dans le refus de soumettre les individus aux « fins de l’histoire ».

 

En ce qui concerne la doctrine du contrat social, il ne faut pas oublier qu’elle a pris diverses formes et que chez certains de ses plus illustres défenseurs, elle aboutit à une légitimation de l’absolutisme. C’est le cas non seulement de la doctrine de Hobbes, mais de celles de Grotius et de Pufendorf. On oublie généralement le côté par où la théorie du contrat prétend engendrer la cité en engendrant le gouvernement de la cité. Hormis Rousseau, c’est le cas de nombre de ses adeptes. Et, dans ces conditions, ils admettront souvent que le gouvernement de la cité, quelles que soient sa nature et son origine de fait (y compris la conquête), existe par contrat tacite, ce qui n’est en fait, la plupart du temps, qu’une légitimation a posteriori de la force. C’est ce côté de la doctrine du contrat qu’attaque Herder, le côté par où, par une série de confusions, entre gouvernement et État, puis entre État et société, elle risque d’aboutir à l’absolutisme.

 

Herder est, avant tout, un adversaire du « despotisme éclairé », à la manière de Frédéric II et de quelques autres. Son soutien à ce que nous appellerions peut-être aujourd’hui des « ethnies » a principalement ce fondement. A tort ou à raison, il pense que la diversité ethnique, comme la multiplicité des corps intermédiaires (communautés diverses, villes-cités, etc.) est un puissant contrepoids à la force niveleuse du despotisme.

 

L’envers de cette haine du despotisme sous toutes ses formes, y compris le prétendu despotisme éclairé, c’est l’esprit démocratique. En dénonçant le nationalisme de Herder, on oublie que son nationalisme est lié à cet esprit démocratique. Les sujets d’un monarque n’ont pas de patrie. Le despotisme a aussi pour effet de freiner le développement des sciences et des arts. La culture, qui est créativité et non réception passive d’une tradition, est démocratique et nationale, tout à la fois et indissolublement.

 

Un nationalisme anarchiste

 

A vrai dire, Herder est non seulement antiabsolutiste, mais antiétatiste, contre l’État, anarchiste en ce sens-là. Contrairement à beaucoup de penseurs des Lumières, il soutient que l’État est, en lui-même, plutôt contraire au bonheur de l’individu que l’agent principal de ce bonheur. C’est un point important parce qu’il est à rattaché à cette méprise qui fait dire à Herder, par des citations isolées de leur contexte, qu’il est contre le mélange des nations et des cultures. Il n’est pas contre le mélange (8), il est contre l’État conquérant et impérialiste, qui groupe sous sa domination une foule de peuples divers dont il étouffe la diversité. C’est ce mélange-là que Herder repousse.

 

Herder est pour les peuples parce qu’il est pour le peuple, et il est pour le peuple parce qu’il est contre l’État, contre toute forme étatique, contre l’absurdité de la monarchie héréditaire (et la tradition, pour lui, sur le plan politique en tout cas, ne légitime rien du tout), contre la tyrannie des aristocraties, contre le Léviathan démocratique, dans la mesure où la démocratie reste un État, dans la mesure où elle est toujours cratie, même si elle est démo. Herder est aussi contre les classes sociales, qui vont contre la nature parce qu’elles ne sont établies que par la tradition, encore une fois – ce qui montre que Herder n’a rien d’un traditionaliste !

 

Pour Herder, tous les gouvernements éduquent les hommes pour les laisser dans l’état de minorité, dans une détresse infantile qui permet de mieux les dominer. Et, de ce point de vue, Herder retourne l’Aufklärung kantienne contre elle-même. Car c’est à Kant qu’il faut attribuer le principe cité par Herder dans les Ideen : « L’homme est un animal qui a besoin d’un maître et attend de ce maître ou d’un groupe de maîtres le bonheur de sa destination finale. » C’est un résumé de la position kantienne telle qu’elle est exprimée dans l’Idée d’une histoire universelle du point de vue cosmopolitique (Kant 1947 : 67 et sq.). Herder réplique : « L’homme qui a besoin d’un maître est une bête ; dès qu’il devient homme, il n’a plus besoin d’un maître à proprement parler… La notion d’être humain n’inclut pas celle d’un despote qui lui soit nécessaire et qui serait lui aussi un homme » (Herder 1962 : 157). Kant le prendra assez mal, mais c’est bien lui qui, dans sa philosophie de l’histoire prend position contre l’autonomie, et c’est Herder qui la défend.

 

L’antiétatisme de Herder est à relier à son antiartificialisme, à son antimécanicisme, et à cet organicisme dont on ne voit pas que, loin de subordonner l’individu aux finalités du tout, comme une pièce de la machine au fonctionnement de la mécanique entière, lui confère, au contraire, l’activité d’un organe sans lequel le tout ne pourrait s’animer. Il y a du Herder chez Stein, le ministre libéral de Frédéric-Guillaume IV, lorsqu’il soutient que l’Etat doit être non une machine, mais un organisme. Cette idée, précisément, est au fondement du libéralisme de Stein. Elle signifie que les sujets ne doivent pas être des instruments passifs aux mains de l’État, mais des organes actifs, capables d’initiatives.

 

L’antimilitarisme de Herder, sa polémique contre le principe de l’équilibre européen, invoqué par les princes pour mener leurs sujets au combat, sont à rattacher au même état d’esprit. La guerre est un instrument du totalitarisme de l’Etat monarchique, où personne « n’a plus le droit de savoir… ce que c’est que la dignité personnelle et la libre disposition de soi » (ibid. : 277), où le grain de sable qu’est l’individu ne pèse rien dans la machine (ibid. : 279).

 

Anticolonialisme

 

Mais Herder va plus loin dans le refus de certaines conséquences de la philosophie des Lumières, philosophie qui prône les vertus du commerce et de l’économie marchande. Dans une des pages les plus saisissantes de Une autre philosophie de l’histoire, il dénonce, avec une ironie voltairienne, les dévastations que fait subir à l’humanité la prédominance de cette économie marchande. C’est là une des clés de la pensée de Herder, qui a fort bien vu le lien étroit qu’il y a entre la colonisation « extérieure » et la colonisation « intérieure ».

 

Encore une fois, le point de vue de Herder est celui de la révolution paysanne. Herder est issu d’une famille de paysans pauvres et il a vécu à Riga, qui fut touchée par la révolte des anabaptistes au XVIe siècle. On peut peut-être rendre compte de son attitude à partir de là.

 

Il écrit donc : « Où ne parviennent pas, et où ne parviendront pas à s’établir des colonies européennes ! Partout les sauvages, plus ils prennent goût à notre eau-de-vie et à notre opulence, deviennent mûrs pour nos efforts de conversion ! Se rapprochent partout, surtout à l’aide de l’eau-de-vie et de l’opulence, de notre civilisation – seront bientôt, avec l’aide de Dieu, tous des hommes comme nous ! Des hommes bons, forts, heureux.

 

« Commerce et papauté, combien avez-vous déjà contribué à cette grande entreprise ! » Plus loin, il poursuit : « Si cela marche dans les autres continents, pourquoi pas en Europe ? C’est une honte pour l’Angleterre que l’Irlande soit si longtemps restée sauvage et barbare : elle est policée et heureuse. ».

 

Herder fait ensuite allusion au sort de l’Écosse. Mais il n’y en a pas que pour l’Angleterre ; la France n’est pas oubliée : « Quel royaume en notre siècle n’est devenu grand et heureux par la culture ! Il n’y en avait qu’un qui s’étalait au beau milieu, à la honte de l’humanité, sans académies ni sociétés d’agriculture, portant des moustaches et nourrissant par suite des régicides. Et vois tout ce que la France généreuse, à elle seule, a déjà fait de la Corse sauvage ! Ce fut l’œuvre de trois… moustaches : en faire des hommes comme nous ! des hommes bons, forts, heureux ! »

 

« L’unique ressort de nos États : la crainte et l’argent ; sans avoir aucunement besoin de la religion (ce ressort enfantin !), de l’honneur et de la liberté d’âme et de la félicité humaine. Comme nous savons bien saisir par surprise, comme un second Protée, le dieu unique de tous les dieux : Mammon ! et le métamorphoser ! et obtenir de lui par force tout ce que nous voulons ! Suprême et bienheureuse politique ! » (Herder 1964 : 271-273).

 

Plus loin encore, il récidivera, mettant cette fois en cause ce qu’il appelle le « système du commerce », et qui embrasse, semble-t-il, à la fois l’idéologie sous-jacente à la science économique et le capitalisme commercial, industriel et agraire : « Notre système commercial ! Peut-on rien imaginer qui surpasse le raffinement de cette science qui embrasse tout ? … En Europe, l’esclavage est aboli parce qu’on a calculé combien ces esclaves coûteraient davantage et rapporteraient moins que des hommes libres ; il n’y a qu’une chose que nous nous soyons permise : utiliser comme esclaves trois continents, en trafiquer, les exiler dans les mines d’argent et les sucreries – mais ce ne sont pas des Européens, pas des chrétiens, et en retour nous avons de l’argent et des pierres précieuses, des épices, du sucre, et… des maladies intimes ! Cela à cause du commerce, et pour une aide fraternelle réciproque et la communauté des nations ! « Système du commerce. » Ce qu’il y a de grand et d’unique dans cette organisation est manifeste : trois continents dévastés et policés par nous, et nous, par eux, dépeuplés, émasculés, plongés dans l’opulence, l’exploitation honteuse de l’humanité et la mort : voilà qui est s’enrichir et trouver son bonheur dans le commerce » (ibid. : 279-281).

 

On a rarement dénoncé avec autant de véhémence les ravages qui ont rendu possible l’édification de notre « économie-monde ». Herder a fort bien vu que l’entreprise, malgré « l’humanisme » de ses hérauts et thuriféraires, prenait volontiers appui sur un racisme ordinaire ou extraordinaire.

 

Antiracisme

 

Herder a fort bien vu aussi ce que la notion même de race, appliquée au genre humain, comporte de racisme implicite, dans la mesure où elle suppose, en fait, un polygénisme. Ceux qui, comme Buffon ou Kant se veulent monogénistes, mais parlent néanmoins de races humaines, sont donc, au moins, inconséquents. Herder est, lui, résolument monogéniste, contrairement à Voltaire, par exemple, qui pensait que « les Blancs et les Nègres, et les Rouges, et les Lapons et les Samoyèdes et les Albinos ne viennent certainement pas du même sol. La différence entre toutes ces espèces est aussi marquée qu’entre les chevaux et les chameaux »… Le monogénisme chrétien est donc à rejeter : « Il n’y a… qu’un brahmane mal instruit et entêté qui puisse prétendre que tous les hommes descendent de l’Indien Damo et de sa femme (9). »

 

Herder croit à la profonde unité de l’espèce humaine parce qu’il croit à la profonde unité des traditions. L’apparente diversité de ce qu’on appelle les races humaines n’est qu’un effet de la diversité des climats qui ne peut, tout au plus, produire que des variétés, mais qui ne pourrait, en aucun cas, engendrer des espèces. Cette diversité n’est donc pas un fait d’histoire naturelle, mais plutôt, pourrait-on dire, de géographie historique ou d’histoire géographique ; histoire qui témoigne, en tout cas, de la souplesse d’organisation de l’espèce humaine, c’est-à-dire de sa raison. Chez Herder, l’universalité de la raison prend appui non seulement sur la diversité des cultures, mais même sur la diversité d’apparence physique, de race, si l’on veut.

 

Selon lui, on perd le fil de l’histoire quand on a une prédilection pour une race quelconque et qu’on méprise tout ce qui n’est pas elle. L’historien de l’humanité doit être impartial et sans passion, comme le naturaliste, qui donne une valeur égale à la rose et au chardon, au ver de terre et à l’éléphant. La nature fait lever tous les genres possibles selon le lieu, le temps, la force. Conformément à l’inspiration leibnizienne de la pensée de Herder, « les nations se modifient selon le lieu, le temps et leur caractère interne », mais « chacune porte en elle l’harmonie de sa perfection, non comparable à d’autres » (Herder 1962 : 275). On retrouve ici ce que nous avons développé plus haut.

 

Herder est donc opposé également au racisme d’un Buffon, chez qui le racisme ou, comme dit Todorov, le « racialisme », entraîne la justification de l’esclavage et, bien entendu et a fortiori, de la colonisation et de la conquête (10). Mais il est probable qu’il ne pouvait non plus approuver Kant, pour qui, certes, même chez les Lapons, les Groenlandais, les Samoyèdes, même les « indigènes des mers du Sud » dont il est question dans les Fondements de la métaphysique des mœurs (1957 : 141) ont droit à notre respect, mais qui n’en sont pas moins à considérer comme moralement condamnables : en premier lieu parce qu’ils n’ont pas su constituer d’État. Or l’État est la condition pour que nous ayons quelque chance d’atteindre à la moralité. En second lieu, et surtout, parce qu’ils ne s’appliquent pas à développer leurs aptitudes par le travail, bref, parce qu’ils n’ont pas notre culture. Plaçant le droit, le droit « rationnel » moderne au-dessus du bonheur et, avec le droit, le travail, l’activité productive qui éveille en l’homme l’idée de la supériorité de la raison sur les sens, Kant aboutit en fait à un naïf européocentrisme, peu en accord avec la philosophie de Herder.

 

Un nouveau Vico

 

En Europe même, la prétention à se faire l’éducateur du genre humain risque d’aboutir à une dictature platonicienne des « spécialistes de l’universel ». L’anthropologie herderienne nous propose une conception de la culture qui relativise par avance l’opposition : culture (au singulier) / cultures (au pluriel) ou, plus clairement, l’opposition pensée / culture (au sens de l’anthropologie). Que les cultures, au pluriel, ne contiennent aucune pensée active, aucune créativité, n’est vrai que dans la mesure où « les cultures » ont été écrasées, tronçonnées, émiettées, ôtées à leurs courants d’échange « naturels », mais cela se révèle faux partout où on les laisse s’épanouir normalement.

 

Herder est un nouveau Vico, qui a compris qu’une éducation purement cartésienne, une éducation de la « table rase », laisse l’homme désemparé, privé de tout repère moral et politique, arraché aux dimensions sociales de son être. L’éducation de la pure pensée doit se compléter d’une éducation des sens et des sentiments, d’une éducation « humaniste » qui fasse place aux certitudes morales, c’est-à-dire au plus probable. Les arts du langage y doivent tenir leur rang, trop souvent méconnu : l’art du discours et des lettres, l’art de la traduction également, nécessaire à la connaissance morale d’autrui, et sans lequel on conçoit mal que puisse se constituer une raison « dialogique ».

 

Cette raison a besoin aussi de connaissances ethnologiques et historiques, elle a besoin de ce décentrement de la pensée qu’elles procurent, et sans lequel il n’y a point de reconnaissance d’autrui. L’histoire anthropologique, à la manière de Vico ou de Herder réunit ces deux types de connaissances. Elle préfigure l’histoire telle qu’elle a été pratiquée de nos jours, depuis Fustel de Coulanges jusqu’à Michel Foucault, en passant par l’école des Annales. Conformément à l’esprit herderien, cette histoire est, non plus histoire des gouvernants et des hommes de guerre, mais histoire des peuples, histoire des gens, histoire de tous. L’histoire continuiste, dont certains ont la nostalgie, c’est la mythologie du pouvoir, de ce pouvoir qui est, d’ailleurs, souvent responsable précisément des coupures, des cassures dans l’histoire des simples gens et de leurs mentalités, comme il est responsable de l’enfermement des ethnies en elles-mêmes, de leur emprisonnement dans des frontières fermées, bloquant les échanges spontanés entre cultures.

 

Ce que dit Giuseppe Cocchiara (1981 : 21) de Gian Battista Vico, à savoir qu’avec lui, les traditions populaires entrent, de manière décisive, dans l’histoire, qu’avec lui aussi, les peuples dits « primitifs » sont appelés à faire partie de l’histoire de l’humanité et qu’à ce titre, il est un précurseur des méthodes de l’ethnologie, on pourrait le redire de Herder. Il n’y a pas de peuple qui ne soit dans l’histoire. L’égalité des peuples, c’est aussi cela, c’est l’égale vocation à entrer dans l’histoire et c’est l’égale sympathie que doit leur vouer l’historien. Les insuffisances de l’Aufklärung sur ce point ont persisté souvent jusqu’à nos jours.

 

Conclusions

 

Si nous ne perdons pas de vue que la culture allemande des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles a apporté beaucoup à celle de l’Est européen, en Russie même et chez les nations qui connaissent aujourd’hui un réveil démocratique, l’importance de Herder, qui y fut souvent lu et apprécié, n’échappera à personne.

 

Bien loin d’être un danger pour la démocratie, l’esprit herderien peut être un facteur qui permette d’exorciser les fantômes d’un nationalisme rétrograde et agressif, et d’intégrer les valeurs ethniques et nationales à un esprit démocratique rénové, où l’individualisme ne fasse pas obstacle au sens de la communauté et la recherche du bien-être à la créativité culturelle.

 

Mais pour que cela soit possible, il ne faut pas caricaturer la pensée de Herder et dévaloriser systématiquement l’une des conquêtes les plus précieuses de l’esprit scientifique, à savoir le perspectivisme, dans la mesure même où il nous permet de rendre justice à toutes les formes d’humanité.

 

En fait, il est paradoxal que l’on trouve aujourd’hui, du côté des philosophes et des spécialistes des sciences humaines, une remise en cause du perspectivisme et du particularisme linguistique et culturel, à un moment précisément où, à l’inverse, les spécialistes des sciences « dures » et des techniques haut de gamme en viennent au perspectivisme eux aussi – consciemment, car ils l’ont toujours pratiqué en fait – et, dans le travail même de la recherche et de l’invention technique et scientifique, vantent les mérites de la tradition culturelle et son potentiel de créativité.

 

L’utilisation de l’ordinateur va elle-même dans le sens du perspectivisme. Presque toujours l’ordinateur calcule faux, et il faut trouver son chemin dans le brouillard des erreurs. Or il y a plusieurs chemins possibles…

 

Dans la physique moderne, l’absence d’ambiguïté et le caractère prédictible des phénomènes a disparu, du fait, en particulier, de l’absence de simplicité du point de départ de la ligne d’événements à prévoir. Comme l’écrit l’épistémologue italien Tito Arecchi (1989), « l’existence d’un point de vue privilégié pour effectuer la mesure, sur laquelle tous les physiciens étaient d’accord, est tombée en disgrâce ». C’est du sein même de la théorie et de la pratique expérimentale physiciennes que surgit le perspectivisme.

 

Mais il y a un point sur lequel des physiciens et des techniciens se retrouvent pour rapprocher la science moderne des savoirs anciens : dans la recherche de la créativité, l’étude de la dynamique de l’invention scientifique et technique fait ressortir l’importance de l’oral, de l’expression parlée, dans la science et, par conséquent, l’importance de la langue et de l’enracinement de cette langue dans un terreau culturel particulier. Ce sont les physiciens et les technologues, aujourd’hui, qui deviennent herderiens. Je cite Jean-Marc Lévy-Leblond (1990 : 25-26), physicien théoricien : « On peut… tranquillement affirmer que la science, en France, est faite de beaucoup plus de mots français (parlés) qu’anglais (écrits). Qu’il soit nécessaire de rappeler cette évidence montre à quel point le débat est faussé par une grave erreur de conception sur la nature de la recherche scientifique, identifiée à son produit final (les publications), plutôt qu’à son activité réelle. Or cette vitalité de la langue naturelle dans la science est utile et féconde. La science se fait comme elle se parle. A s’énoncer, donc à se penser, dans une langue autre que la langue ambiante, elle perdrait son enracinement dans le terreau culturel commun et serait ipso facto privée d’une source essentielle, même si elle est souvent invisible, de sa dynamique. Les mots ne sont pas des habits neutres pour les idées : c’est souvent par leur jeu libre et inattendu que se fait l’émergence des idées neuves… Et cela est encore plus vrai si l’on considère l’autre versant de la recherche scientifique, celui non de la création novatrice, mais de la réflexion critique. »

 

Et André-Yves Portnoff, directeur délégué de Science et technologie, va dans le même sens. Avec David Landes, il regrette que beaucoup de responsables du tiers monde « cultivent l’illusion de moderniser leur pays en faisant table rase de leur héritage historique », alors qu’« aujourd’hui, la créativité technologique et industrielle, comme la créativité artistique, fait appel à l’imaginaire », et que, de ce point de vue, « chaque langue, dans toute son épaisseur historique, avec toutes ses strates de mémoire collective, constitue un instrument d’une richesse indispensable » (1990 : 26).

 

A entendre de tels propos, l’ombre de Herder frémirait d’aise dans l’au-delà. Mais à propos de Herder faut-il parler d’ombre ? Ou de lumière ? Nous optons pour la lumière.

 

Max Caisson,

« Lumière de Herder », Terrain, numero-17 – En Europe, les nations (octobre 1991)

 

———————————
Bibliographie :
Arecchi T., 1989. « Chaos et complexité », Le Monde/Liber, n° 1, oct.
Cassirer E., 1970. La philosophie des Lumières, Paris, Fayard (Die Philosophie der Aufklärung, Tübingen, 1932).
Cocchiara G., 1981. Storia del folklore in Italia, Palerme, Sellerio.
Finkielkraut A., 1987. La défaite de la pensée, Paris, Gallimard.
Herder J. G., 1977. Traité sur l’origine de la langue, Paris, Aubier (Abhändlung über den Ursprung der Sprache, 1770).
1964. Une autre philosophie de l’histoire, Paris, Aubier (Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte, 1774).
1962. Idées pour la philosophie de l’histoire de l’humanité, Paris, Aubier (Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit, 1784).
Herzen A. I., 1843. « Le dilettantisme dans la science », Annales de la patrie.
Hume D., 1947 (1751). Essai de morale, in Enquête sur les principes de la morale, trad. de A. Leroy, Paris, Aubier.
Kant E., 1947. Philosophie de l’Histoire (Opuscules), trad. de St. Piobetta, Paris, Aubier.
1957 (1797). Fondements de la métaphysique des mœurs, trad. de V. Delbos, Paris, Delagrave.
Lévi-Bruhl L., 1890. L’Allemagne depuis Leibniz, Paris, Hachette.
Lévy-Leblond J.-M., 1990. « Une recherche qui se fait comme elle se parle… », Le Monde diplomatique, janv.
Portnoff A.-Y., 1990. « La créativité victime des jargons », Le monde diplomatique, janv.
Roheim G., 1972. Origine et fonction de la culture, Paris, Gallimard.
Serres M., 1968. Le système de Leibniz et ses modèles mathématiques, I, Paris, PUF.
Todorov T., 1989. Nous et les autres, Paris, Le Seuil.

 

———————–
Notes :
1 – Cf. Finkielkraut (1987).
2 – J. de Maistre appelle Herder « l’honnête comédien qui enseignait l’Evangile en chaire et le panthéisme dans ses écrits ». C’est dire la sympathie qu’il éprouvait pour lui…
3 – Cf. l’article « Français » dans l’Encyclopédie.
4 – En ce qui concerne l’éthique herderienne, voir, dans le présent article, le paragraphe intitulé « Un eudémonisme relativiste. ».
5 – Voir notamment Roheim 1972.
6 – On pourrait, sur ce point, comparer la pensée de Herder avec certaines thèses de Cl. Lévi-Strauss.
7 – Leibniz, 1710. Essais de Théodicée : paragraphe 202.
8 – La preuve est que, pour lui, la prééminence actuelle de l’Europe est due, pour une part, à l’extraordinaire mélange de populations et de cultures qui la caractérise : « En aucun continent les peuples ne se sont autant mélangés qu’en Europe ; en aucun autre ils n’ont si radicalement et si souvent changé de résidences, et avec celles-ci de mode de vie et de mœurs… fusion sans laquelle l’esprit général européen aurait difficilement pu s’éveiller » (Herder 1962 : 309).
9 – Voltaire, Essai sur l’histoire générale et l’esprit des nations depuis Charlemagne jusqu’à nos jours, ch. III.
10 – Voir particulièrement le chapitre intitulé « Les voies du racialisme » dans l’ouvrage de Todorov (1989 : 179 et sq.).

 

dimanche, 23 octobre 2011

La tolleranza di Voltaire non è che la maschera di una nuova e più feroce intolleranza

La tolleranza di Voltaire non è che la maschera di una nuova e più feroce intolleranza

di Francesco Lamendola

Fonte: Arianna Editrice [scheda fonte]

 

Abbiamo già visto come il gran padre del liberalismo, John Locke, abbia proclamato, fin dal 1689 (l’anno della “Glorious Revolution” inglese) il sacro principio della tolleranza universale; escludendone, però, per ragioni di fatto e di principio, tutta una serie di categorie umane e specialmente religiose: guarda caso, i non inglesi, i non protestanti, i non cristiani, i non religiosi (cfr. il nostro articolo «Locke auspica tolleranza religiosa per tutti, ma invoca la persecuzione di cattolici islamici e atei», apparso sul sito di Arianna Editrice in data 10/02/2011).

Ci resta da vedere come il suo legittimo successore in terra di Francia, Voltaire, abbia a sua volta ripreso ed esposto le proprie idee in fatto di tolleranza, questo roboante slogan dell’Illuminismo che, nel 1793, non varrà a risparmiare la vita di forse un milione di Vandeani, cattivi cittadini che non vorranno accogliere con il berretto frigio e l’Albero della Libertà le deliziose parole d’ordine: libertà, fraternità, uguaglianza, ma che preferiranno farsi massacrare, potenza dell’ignoranza e della superstizione, in difesa del loro re, della loro Chiesa e dei loro signori.

Per farsi un’idea dell’estensione che Voltaire accorda al suo soggetto, basta andare a cercare il codicillo, l’avvertenza, la specificazione in cui esplicitamente, come già aveva fatto il padre nobile Locke, vengono esposte le categorie di cittadini immeritevoli di godere anch’essi dei benefici della tolleranza, perché non sono veramente esseri umani, ma “lupi”: e con i lupi, si sa, non bisogna mostrare alcuna pietà, perché la pietà sarebbe un crimine verso gli altri, cioè verso i “bravi” cittadini, rispettosi dei Lumi della ragione e di tutto l’armamentario liberale.

Ecco dunque cosa afferma Voltaire, nel capitolo XVIII del suo «Trattato sulla tolleranza» del 1763, circa ottant’anni dopo quello di Locke, che  in realtà, era stato scritto nel 1685-86 (titolo originale: «Traité sur la tolérance à l’occasion de la mort de Jan Calas»; traduzione italiana di Glauca Michelini, Demetra Editrice, 1995, pp. 79-80; capitolo intitolato esplicitamente: «I soli casi in cui l’intolleranza è di diritto umano»):

 

«Perché un governo non abbia il diritto di punire gli errori degli uomini è necessario che questi errori non siano delitti; essi sono delitti solo quando turbano la società: e la turbano non appena ispirano il fanatismo. È necessario dunque che gli uomini comincino col non essere fanatici per meritare la tolleranza.

Se alcuni giovani gesuiti, sapendo che la chiesa ha in orrore i reprobi,  che i giansenisti sono condannati da una bolla papale e che sono perciò dei reprobi, vanno ad appiccare il fuoco ad una casa dei Padri dell’Oratorio perché l’oratoriano Quesnel era giansenista, è chiaro che si sarà costretti a punire questi gesuiti.

Nello stesso modo, se hanno diffuso massime delittuose, se il loro istituto è contrario alle leggi del regno, non si può fare a meno di sciogliere la loro compagnia e abolire i gesuiti per trasformarli in cittadini, cosa che in fondo è un male immaginario, e per loro un bene reale, perché che cosa c’è di male nel portare un abito corto invece che una sottana, e nell’essere liberi invece che schiavi? Tranquillamente si riformano reggimenti interi, che non se ne lamentano: perché i gesuiti lanciano così alte grida quando li si sottopone a riforme per ottenere la pace?

Se i francescani, trasportati a sacro zelo per la Vergine Maria, andassero a demolire la chiesa dei domenicani, che sono convinti che Maria è nata nel peccato originale, si sarebbe allora obbligati a trattare i francescani quasi come i gesuiti.

Si dirà la stessa cosa dei luterani e dei calvinisti.  Avranno un bel dire: “Noi seguiamo i moti della nostra coscienza, è meglio obbedire a Dio che agli uomini; siamo il vero gregge, dobbiamo sterminare i lupi”. È evidente che allora sono lupi anche loro.

Uno degli esempi più singolari di fanatismo è stato quello di una piccola seta in Danimarca, i cui fondamento era il migliore del mondo. Costoro volevano procurare la salute eterna ai loro fratelli; ma le conseguenze che ricavano da questo principio fondamentale erano singolari.

Sapeva che tutti i bambini che muoiono senza battesimo sono dannati, e che tutti quelli che hanno la fortuna di morire subito dopo aver ricevuto il battesimo godono del la gloria eterna: andavano quindi sgozzando i bambini e le bambine appena battezzati che incontravano. Era senza dubbio un modo di fare loro il più grande bene possibile:  li si preservava dal peccato, dalle miserie di questa vitae dall’inferno; li si mandava infallibilmente in cielo. Ma queste caritatevoli persone non consideravano che non è permesso fare neppure un piccolo male in vista di un grande bene; che non avevano alcun diritto sulla vita di questi bambini; che la maggior parte dei padri e delle madri è abbastanza materialista da preferire  di avere con sé i propri figli e le proprie figlie anziché vederli sgozzare per mandarli in paradiso;  che, in una parola, il magistrato deve punire l’omicidio,  anche se commesso con buone intenzioni.

Sembra che gli Ebrei abbiano più diritto degli altri di derubarci e di ucciderci: infatti, benché ci siano cento esempi di tolleranza nell’Antico Testamento, tuttavia vi sono anche esempi e leggi di rigore. Dio ordinò loro talvolta di uccidere gli idolatri, e di risparmiare solo le figlie nubili: essi ci considerano idolatri, e anche se noi oggi li tollerassimo, potrebbero bene, se fossero loro a comandare, non lasciar al mondo che le nostre figlie.

Sarebbero soprattutto assolutamente obbligati ad assassinare tutti i Turchi, cosa ovvia; infatti i Turchi posseggono i territori degli Etei, dei Gebusei, degli Amorrei,  dei Gersenei, degli Evei, degli Aracei, dei Cinei, degli Amatei, dei Samaritani. Tutti questi popoli furono colpiti da anatema: il loro paese, che si estendeva per più di venticinque leghe, fu donato agli Ebrei con successivi patti. Essi devono rientrare in possesso dei loro beni: i maomettani ne sono gli usurpatori da più di mille anni.

Se gli Ebrei ragionassero così, è chiaro che non ci sarebbe altro modo  di rispondere loro che mandandoli in galera.

Questi sono i soli casi, all’incirca, in cui l’intolleranza sembra ragionevole.»

Questa pagina di prosa è notevole perché in essa si concentrano tutte le principali caratteristiche di Voltaire “filosofo”; se mai è lecito parlare di filosofia a proposito di una delle menti più eminentemente antifilosofiche nella storia del pensiero europeo, se mai ve ne fu una.

L’esordio è una tipica professione di fede nel Vangelo dei “diritti naturali” e della concezione dello Stato liberale come semplice strumento di tutela affinché il singolo cittadino possa esercitare i suoi diritti: i quali coincidono con la libertà di fare tutto ciò che, non potendosi qualificare come crimine, non incorre nei rigori della legge. In altri termini, la legge è quell’insieme di norme coercitive che colpiscono il crimine e di altro non si interessa; anche se vi sono molti comportamenti che, pur non essendo criminali, danneggiano gravemente la società, per Voltaire solo il delitto la turba e quindi solamente esso va punito.

Non solo: per Voltaire pare che un solo crimine turbi la società, il fanatismo; ecco allora che, per non incorrere nei rigori della legge, bisogna astenersi dal fanatismo: solo a questa condizione gli uomini diventano meritevoli di tolleranza.

A questo punto la tolleranza non risulta più l’atteggiamento fondamentale dell’uomo verso il suo simile e dello Stato verso il cittadino, bensì il prerequisito per meritare di essere trattati, a propria volta, con tolleranza: se non si è tolleranti, si è fanatici e se si è fanatici, non si merita alcuna tolleranza né dagli altri uomini, né, tanto meno, dalla società organizzata secondo i dettami della ragione, vale a dire dallo Stato.

Ovviamente, il primo esempio di fanatismo immeritevole di tolleranza che viene in mente al Nostro è quello dei gesuiti, i quali, come tutti sanno, impiegano la maggior parte del loro tempo andandosene in giro ad appiccare il fuoco alle chiese dei giansenisti: dunque, nessuna tolleranza con essi, ma, al contrario, il pugno di ferro dello Stato: nessuna pietà per quanti sono anatema rispetto al Vangelo del fondamentalismo illuminista.

Subito dopo Voltaire passa dal caso particolare al generale e  insinua che i gesuiti, essendo seminatori di dottrine velenose, meritano che il loro ordine venga sciolto e che essi siano ridotti allo stato laicale. Di fatto, i Gesuiti erano stati espulsi da tutti gli Stati europei entro il 1767, per cui, quando Voltaire scriveva il suo “pamphlet”, la cosa era già avvenuta; anzi poco dopo, nel 1773, il papa Clemente XIV procedette allo scioglimento della Compagnia di Gesù.

Subito dopo, con il suo solito ghigno derisorio, Voltaire si abbandona a una pesantissima ironia, affermando che la cosa migliore, per i gesuiti, è proprio quella di essere ridotti allo stato laicale, perché, in tal modo, lo Stato li spoglia di un  bene immaginario e dona loro un bene reale: infatti li trasforma da schiavi in uomini liberi e da portatori di sottana, in cittadini dal vestito corto, come tutti gli altri.

Ci vuole una bella faccia tosta per parlare così, vantando la violenza statale come un atto di generosità e deridendo il sentimento religioso altrui, anzi, facendosene beffe nella maniera più triviale: parlando di bene immaginario, infatti, egli butta nel cestino della carta straccia ciò che per migliaia di esseri umani è stato una ragione di vita e prefigura quel che accadrà con la Costituzione civile del clero durante la Rivoluzione francese, allorché migliaia di sacerdoti, di frati e di monache dovranno scegliere se accettare il sopruso oppure rimanere fedeli ai loro ideali, andando incontro al carcere, alla deportazione o alla morte sulla ghigliottina.

Poi, per fare sfoggio d’imparzialità, Voltaire se la prende con i francescani, con i luterani, con i calvinisti, con i giudei; ma il suo particolare, astioso malanimo verso il cattolicesimo e verso i gesuiti, traspare dal fatto che egli afferma che se altri, per esempio i francescani, dovessero comportarsi con altrettanto fanatismo dei membri della Compagnia fondata da Ignazio di Loyola, allora essi meriterebbero di essere trattati “quasi” - quasi, si badi - come questi ultimi.

Il brano dedicato ai Giudei è particolarmente interessante perché Voltaire, che pure si proclama loro difensore e loro estimatore, sottolinea che tutti i non ebrei, per questi ultimi, sono “infedeli” e che probabilmente verrebbero sterminati, qualora i rapporti di forza si capovolgessero; aggiunge pure che gli Ebrei, se tornassero padroni della Palestina, sterminerebbero migliaia e migliaia di musulmani. Il tutto in un crescendo di tale intensità, da mettere seriamente in crisi l’assioma secondo il quale l’antisemitismo sarebbe stato coltivato da tutti, tranne che dagli illuministi, perché questi ultimi, essendo i campioni della libertà e della tolleranza, non POTEVANO essere antisemiti (cfr. Il nostro recente articolo «Ma quanti contorsionismi per giustificare l’antisemitismo dell’”illuminato” Lichtenberg», apparso sul sito di Arianna Editrice il 26/09/2011).

La considerazione finale di Voltaire, secondo il quale, se tutti gli Ebrei ragionassero da nemici degli altri popoli e delle altre fedi, meriterebbero di essere “mandati in galera”, suona particolarmente sinistra, perché un popolo intero non si potrà mai mandare in galera, ma solo nei campi di concentramento, il che è precisamente quanto accadrà durante la seconda guerra mondiale; e, anche in quel caso, la motivazione dell’inumana decisione sarà di tipo difensivo: poiché gli Ebrei tramano contro la razza ariana, della quale sono divenuti mortali parassiti, allora è necessario metterli in condizioni di non nuocere, costi quel che costi…

E così, chi lo avrebbe detto, ecco che il campione della tolleranza universale assume le vesti, alquanto inquietanti, di un precursore dello sterminio del popolo ebreo, nonché di tutte le pratiche che il totalitarismo ha sempre prediletto per sbarazzarsi dei propri oppositori, dopo averli dipinti come nemici del genere umano, come nemici della pace e della tolleranza: perché, una volta che l’avversario sia stato trasformato non solo in un nemico irriducibile, come insegna Carl Schmitt, ma addirittura in un lupo feroce, che altro rimane da fare, se non abbatterlo senza pietà, come una fiera irrimediabilmente feroce e pericolosa?

Tolleranza per tutti, dunque: tranne che per chi non s’inchina alla Buona Novella della ragione.

Vengono in mente quei gesuiti del Paraguay che vennero espulsi dal marchese di Pombal, al solo scopo di “liberare” i poveri indios dall’odioso fanatismo cattolico e non certo perché i latifondisti portoghesi potessero farli schiavi impunemente: ma quando mai, questi sono solo cattivi pensieri…


Tante altre notizie su www.ariannaeditrice.it

dimanche, 16 octobre 2011

Identità umana e pregiudizio etnico ne «I viaggi di Gulliver» di Jonathan Swift

 

gulliver1.jpg

Identità umana e pregiudizio etnico ne «I viaggi di Gulliver» di Jonathan Swift

 

di Francesco Lamendola

Fonte: Arianna Editrice [scheda fonte]

 

Da quando è apparso nelle librerie di Londra, nel 1726, il capolavoro di quella mente satirica e paradossale che fu Jonathan Swift (in una sua opera minore, la «Modesta proposta», del 1729, aveva suggerito, con la impassibile seriosità dell’economista, che i bambini poveri venissero utilizzati come cibo per i ricchi), ossia «Gulliver’s travels», esso non ha finito di dar luogo ad equivoci e fraintendimenti.
Basti dire che, per anni ed anni, di esso, o piuttosto di una sua edizione ridotta e “normalizzata”, si è voluto fare un classico per la gioventù; cosa ancora più amaramente paradossale di quel che avrebbe potuto immaginare il suo stesso autore, dato che tutto si può pensare de «I viaggi di Gulliver», tranne che sia un romanzo adatto ai bambini.
Se bastasse il fatto che il protagonista, a un certo punto, capita nel paese di Lilliput, dove tutto, a cominciare dagli abitanti, è quindici volte più piccolo che nel nostro mondo; oppure che, nella sua successiva avventura, egli finisce nel paese di Brobdingnag, ove il rapporto delle grandezze è rovesciato a sfavore dell’uomo, e lo stesso protagonista finisce rinchiuso in gabbia come un canarino, per il trastullo della gigantesca figlia del re; se bastassero tali aspetti puramente esteriori, allora vorrebbe dire che noi attribuiamo ben poca importanza a ciò che diamo da leggere ai bambini, oppure che non abbiamo capito nulla della terribile serietà di questo libro.
Che cos’è che non passa attraverso la macina della satira impietosa di Swift, misantropo inguaribile e scatenato pessimista? Non si salva nessuno: i suoi strali colpiscono con infallibile cattiveria i filosofi, gli storici, gli inventori (e questo in piena ideologia del progresso, in pieno secolo dei Lumi!); l’avidità e la brutalità degli Europei, protesi alla conquista degli altri continenti (e ciò nel Paese europeo che più di tutti si stava impegnando in questa sedicente “missione di civiltà”, la Gran Bretagna, dopo aver ridotto alla disperazione i vicini Irlandesi); la sete degli uomini di vivere eternamente; il primordiale istinto di sopraffazione proprio della natura umana, che viene significativamente contrapposto alla olimpica saggezza e all’esplicito disprezzo ad essa riservato dai nobili cavalli parlanti.
Dal punto di vista filosofico, «I viaggi di Gulliver» sono una vera e propria miniera di spunti per la riflessione, almeno quanto lo sono altri classici ammirati sotto il profilo letterario, ma, di solito, poco considerati in questa prospettiva, quali la «Divina Commedia» di Dante, il «Don Chisciotte della Mancia» di Cervantes e i «Promessi Sposi» di Manzoni.
Una miniera addirittura inesauribile: al punto che, se volessimo non già trattare, ma anche solo sfiorare, le principali tematiche filosofiche sottese al romanzo di Swift, avremmo la necessità di riempire parecchi volumi; qui, pertanto, vogliamo limitarci a toccare uno solo di tali aspetti, vale a dire quello riguardante il problema dell’identità e del pregiudizio etnico.
Formidabile accusatore dell’etnocentrismo, Swift insiste continuamente, lungo tutta la sua opera, sulla estrema difficoltà, anzi, sulla radicale impossibilità di superare i pregiudizi culturali della propria civiltà, nel momento in cui ci si trova alle prese con una civiltà diversa, i cui presupposti materiali e spirituali siano totalmente differenti dai nostri e anche da quelli che potremmo teoricamente concepire.
È ovvio che, così impostata la questione, la soluzione non può consistere nel generico e velleitario cosmopolitismo illuminista, benché tanto decantato da Voltaire e dagli altri “philosophes” francesi, a cominciare da Montesquieu: come si fa ad essere cittadini del mondo, infatti, se risulta per noi insormontabile la barriera culturale entro la quale siamo nati e cresciuti e dall’interno della quale tendiamo a giudicare, con arbitraria sicumera, altri modi di essere, di sentire e di pensare, del tutto diversi ai nostri?
Più sensato, semmai, appare un atteggiamento di scettica tolleranza, simile a quello già mostrato da Montaigne e del quale abbiamo già avuto, a suo tempo, occasione di occuparci (cfr. il nostro articolo «Michel de Montaigne e il cannibale felice», apparso sul sito di Arianna Editrice in data 13/12/2007).
Ha scritto Gianni Celati nel suo saggio introduttivo a «I viaggi di Gulliver» di Jonathan Swift (Feltrinelli, Milano, 2004, pp.  XV-XVI):

«Che si tratti di meschini lillipuziani o di magnanimi giganti o di cavalli virtuosi, le abitudini dei vari paesi  dipendono sempre da una fissazione su certi assiomi, definizioni nominali, dogmi o giudizi a priori; e sono una cecità che impedisce di vere oltre i limiti di una cultura, anche dove si tratta di cose osservabili a occhio nudo. Non solo nei comportamenti, ma anche nelle percezioni e nei pensieri intimi, la natura umana sembra ineluttabilmente dipendente da condizionamenti ambientali. Per cui il passaggio da un regime di abitudini all’altro corrisponde sempre a un lavaggio del cervello; e Gulliver non fa che subire lavaggi del cervello passando da un paese all’atro e adeguandosi a sempre nuove situazioni.
Se tutti i comportamenti e i pensieri dipendono così strettamente  da condizionamenti esterni, viene da chiedersi  dove ci porti questa lezione di relativismo radicale. Come si chiede Patrick Reilly:  “che ne è della vantata libertà della mente, l’inviolabile santuario dell’io”? Spesso è stato detto che Swift  porge un orecchio all’uomo perché si riconosca. Ma guardiamo Gulliver, che sembra un automa in balia della relatività , alieno in tutti i paesi dove capita e anche nella sua amata Inghilterra: se lui è l’uomo in cui specchiarsi, l’uomo è l’alieno del mondo, che appena fuori casa diventa  come Gulliver una specie di “freak” da baraccone, alla maniera dei selvaggi che erano esibiti per lo svago delle folle o dei potenti. Dal libro risulta che l’identità umana viene riconosciuta attraverso “leggi di Natura”; le quali però sono giudizi a priori, abitudini di pensiero per discriminare  l’indigeno dall’estraneo. Ad esempio, nella prima parte Gulliver si trova subito a essere classificato dai dotti lillipuziani come un uomo caduto dalla luna, in base a supposte “leggi di Natura”; e per gli stessi motivi i dotti di Brobdingnag lo classificano come un embrione abortivo, poi uno scherzo di natura; e i matematici lapuziani lo disprezzano perché non ha le loro stesse attitudini demenziali; infine i cavali lo espellono dalla Houyhnhnmland perché lo considerano una bestia irrazionale. Sempre le “leggi di natura” servono a definire la differenza  tra l’indigeno e l’estraneo, e hanno il risultato di esporre Gulliver a sanzioni, a condanne al rischio della vita, all’espulsione.
Inoltre va notato che la consistenza di questi giudizi a priori si fonda  soprattutto sulla boria dei sapienti, sui luoghi comuni della cultura, e in nessun altro libro  la scienza dei dotti viene così collegata alle forme universali dell’etnocentrismo. È questo che impedisce di riconoscere  nell’alieno Gulliver un’identità umana;, facendone appunto un “freak”, uno scherzo di natura: perché, nella scienza dei dotti, i valori differenziali diventano  modi del pregiudizio etnico che decide  l’identità dell’individuo; sicché i luoghi comuni  d’ogni cultura rappresentano i criteri ultimi  per distinguere gli individui umani al resto delle creature sensitive.
Questa  una lezione che Swift ha imparato da Montaigne, uno dei suoi grandi ispiratori;  e il «Gulliver»» sviluppa la visione di Montaigne sulla relatività delle opinioni e abitudini e di tutti i popoli. Una battuta nella quarta parte riassume il pensiero che attraversa il nostro libro: “dov’è mai un essere vivente non trascinato da preconcetti e parzialità per la sua terra natia?”: Bisognerebbe citare i tratti del pregiudizio etnico negli omiciattoli di Lilliput come nei cavali della Houyhnhnmland : pensare alle idee dei capi lillipuziani di macellare  o accecare il povero Gulliver, ricordare le proposte nell’assemblea dei cavalli  di castrare gli Yahoo. Che si tratti dell’untuosa crudeltà  dei lillipuziani, della crudeltà orientale  del re di Luggnagg, di quella olimpica dei cavalli, o di quella  degli europei impegnati in guerre e massacri coloniali, la cultura delle nazionalità sembra che debba sempre confermare  le proprie abitudini ricorrendo a sistemi di crudeltà.
Ogni cultura risulta un modo violento di marchiare gli altri, di segnare i limiti tra noi e l’estraneo.  Perché chi è fuori dai limiti d’una cultura, l’alieno, sembra appartenere alla natura brada come le bestie,  dunque dovrà essere domato, marchiato o castrato come le bestie. Questo mi sembra il succo delle disavventure di Gulliver, e fa venire un mente un celebre passo di Montaigne: “Noi non abbiamo altro punto  di riferimento per la verità e la ragione che l’esempio e l’idea degli usi e opinioni del nostro paese. […] Perciò gli altri diversi da noi sembrano selvaggi, allo stesso modo in cui chiamiamo selvatici i frutti  che la natura ha prodotto nel suo naturale sviluppo” (“Essais”, libro I, cap. XXXI).»

Abbiamo detto che la constatazione della irrimediabile limitatezza e dell’insuperabile condizionamento degli individui da parte della società fa sì che Swift propenda per una visione relativistica e scettica della condizione umana.
La sua satira, che assume talora i toni di un feroce sarcasmo, non sa o non vuole individuare una”pars costruens”  sulla quale far leva, in tanto pessimismo antropologico; egli è un formidabile distruttore, ma non si pone nemmeno il problema di come l’uomo possa tentare di uscire dal condizionamento cui sempre viene sottoposto, senza neppure rendersene conto.
Non si può dire che ne abbia l’obbligo: Swift non è un filosofo, ma uno scrittore; il fatto che abbia saputo vedere e criticare, dietro la vuota retorica del cosmopolitismo illuminista e del progresso illimitato, il vuoto presuntuoso di una cultura incapace anche solo di comprendere i limiti della sua stessa ideologia, sta a significare che il grande demistificatore era di parecchie lunghezze più avanti dei suoi contemporanei, senza però spingersi innanzi fino a raggiungere, o almeno a intravedere, un terreno solido su cui poggiare i piedi.
Proviamo, dunque, a riprendere il discorso là dove l’autore de «I viaggi di Gulliver» lo lascia in sospeso, e vediamo a quali conclusioni si possa arrivare.
Oggi che la globalizzazione sta rimescolando le culture, le riflessioni di Swift appaiono di particolare urgenza, perché è ovvio che una mescolanza culturale, realizzata in tempi brevissimi e con l’unico denominatore comune del profitto economico di pochi, non può che portare a incomprensioni, tensioni, conflitti.
Non ci sembra, però, che l’appartenenza a una determinata cultura debba connotarsi prevalentemente in senso negativo, come Swift sembra pensare: al contrario, l’identità culturale è un elemento essenziale al buon vivere, perché consente all’individuo di interagire positivamente con l’ambiente, di comprendere gli altri ed esserne compreso, di condividere con essi valori, strumenti di pensiero e sensibilità. Un individuo senza identità è come una pianta secca e senza radici; una cultura senza identità è, a sua volta, come un deserto pietrificato, dove ogni cosa diviene anonima e intercambiabile.
È chiaro che l’identità culturale, se si chiude su se stessa e degenera in esclusivismo intollerante, finisce per rendere un pessimo servizio all’individuo, espropriandolo della sua unicità e precludendogli la via di ogni possibile arricchimento spirituale; ma, fino a che questo non avviene e la società si limita ad offrire all’individuo dei saldi punti di riferimento e una rete di relazioni armoniose con l’altro, non solo non ne limita la creatività, ma gli offre un insostituibile punto d’appoggio, sul quale far leva e con il quale orientarsi.
Il problema è che, oggi, da un lato le culture tendono ad abdicare alla propria autonomia e a lasciarsi omologare in un generale appiattimento, ciò che produce un gravissimo impoverimento anche per il singolo individuo; dall’altro, tendono a svuotarsi dall’interno e a dimenticare le proprie radici, trasformandosi in quelle “società liquide” di cui parla Zygmunt Bauman, dominate dalla smania del cambiamento e caratterizzate dalla riduzione del cittadino a consumatore compulsivo di beni sempre più inutili, senza i quali, però, egli si sentirebbe povero ed escluso.
Il grande pericolo, perciò, al giorno d’oggi, non è tanto l’etnocentrismo, quanto l’anonimità e la degradazione delle culture, in nome di un “progresso” incontrollabile e di un tecnicismo esasperato che relegano sempre più l’individuo nel ruolo di semplice accessorio di un sistema efficiente, ma impersonale, dominato dalla sola dimensione economica.
E non ci sembra si possa dire che i pregiudizi dell’economia siano più accettabili di quelli di origine culturale: al fanatismo identitario si sostituisce il non meno temibile ricatto dello status economico-sociale.
Nel romanzo di Gulliver, “freak” è lo straniero in quanto diverso, ridotto a fenomeno da baraccone; nella società globalizzata contemporanea, ove imperano la tecnoscienza e le leggi del profitto, “freak” è colui che non può o non vuole consumare secondo le modalità totalitarie del consumismo imperante: chi, per esempio, si accontenta di essere fruitore di beni e servizi e non più di marchi, di firme, di simboli legati all’industria.
“Freak”, abnorme, è, oggi, colui che voglia essere se stesso e rifiutare le maschere dell’avere e dell’apparire: egli viene guardato con sospetto e disprezzo, proprio come i lillipuziani guardano Gulliver, così ingombrante nella sua diversità.
Ma tale diversità è un bene, non un male, sia per il singolo individuo, sia per la società intera.
Potrebbe una società permettersi di fare a meno di quel cinque per cento creativo, di quella piccola minoranza di persone che non si adeguano passivamente a tutte le mode e a tutti i pregiudizi, ma che coltivano in se stesse la preziosa, inestimabile pianticella dell’originalità, della consapevolezza, dell’apertura esistenziale?


Tante altre notizie su www.ariannaeditrice.it

mercredi, 25 mai 2011

Impasse Adam Smith

« Impasse Adam Smith » de Jean Claude Michéa

Ex: http://www.polemia.com/

Le titre de l’ouvrage de Jean-Claude Michéa, Impasse Adam Smith, est quelque peu réducteur. Son sous-titre est plus explicite : Brèves remarques sur l’impossibilité de dépasser le capitalisme sur sa gauche. La thèse centrale de l’auteur est, en effet, que la gauche et le libéralisme puisent aux mêmes sources idéologiques : l’esprit des Lumières, c’est-à-dire un utilitarisme et un individualisme radicaux. Michel Geoffroy fait le point pour Polémia.

Une physique sociale

impasseMichéa.jpgLes philosophes des Lumières vont progressivement faire de l’intérêt rationnel le seul véritable déterminant de la conduite humaine, dans le fil de Newton qui découvrit la loi de l’attraction universelle. Cette réduction de l’homme à son intérêt « bien compris », c’est-à-dire éclairé par les lumières de sa raison, débouche sur une « physique sociale » dont l’esprit des Lumières croit avoir découvert les lois indépassables. Et si tout homme est déterminé par sa nature à rechercher ce qui lui est utile, « alors l’échange économique devient l’exemple le plus net d’une relation humaine rationnelle » puisque chacun, au terme d’une négociation – un négoce – pacifique, est censé y trouver son compte.

La conduite utilitariste ne constitue qu’une des figures possibles de la conduite humaine

Pour Jean-Claude Michéa cette vision est réductrice car la conduite utilitariste ne constitue qu’une des figures possibles de la conduite humaine. A l’appui de son analyse l’auteur développe notamment une analyse des comportements altruistes et reprend les travaux de Marcel Mauss sur le don, qui est irréductible à tout calcul économique. Il ouvre aussi d’intéressantes perspectives sur les limites de la théorie d’Hobbes pour qui la contrainte étatique serait le seul moyen d’empêcher la guerre de tous contre tous.

L’utilitarisme désagrège l’humanité

N’est-ce pas plutôt l’utilitarisme qui, en désagrégeant l’humanité en monades, en détruisant les solidarités, les identités et les cultures pour donner naissance à l’individu absolu, atome social, flexible et mobilisable à tout moment par le marché, a détruit les fondements du vivre ensemble ? C’est-à-dire la capacité à partager l’existence, y compris avec des hommes qui ne nous ressemblent pas. Car dans le paradigme utilitariste c’est le sujet individuel qui est premier et autosuffisant, la relation à l’autre est toujours seconde. Pour l’auteur qui assimile libéralisme et capitalisme puisque les deux sont indissociables, la théorie libérale n’est qu’une utopie, car le présupposé sur lequel elle repose du primat d’un individu toujours rationnel, calculateur et égoïste n’est rien d’autre qu’un mythe philosophique, une « robinsonnade », comme l’écrivait Marx. Et l’économie politique n’est qu’une « métaphysique libérale ».

C’est le libéralisme qui a bouleversé les traditions

Par conséquent l’auteur estime que la gauche fait fausse route quand elle assimile le libéralisme et le capitalisme au conservatisme : en réalité c’est le libéralisme qui a bouleversé les traditions et détruit l’ordre social. En particulier parce qu’il a introduit l’idée que l’on pouvait désormais dissocier société bonne et citoyens vertueux (cf. La Fable des abeilles, de Mandeville, 1714) et substituer le gouvernement des choses (la « main invisible » du marché, réputée toujours trouver la moins mauvaise solution) au gouvernement des hommes (réputé toujours tyrannique). Pour le libéralisme à l’encontre de la sagesse politique des temps anciens, le problème (l’égoïsme naturel des individus) est désormais aussi la solution. Plus les individus se conduisent en individus, c’est-à-dire se conforment au seul calcul égoïste, mieux cela sera. Cette logique, qui conduit à tuer toutes les relations humaines, explique la pente libertaire fatale du libéralisme que Jean-Claude Michéa analyse avec beaucoup de clarté.

La gauche n’est pas une alternative crédible au désenchantement du monde

Mais si la gauche puise aux mêmes catégories que le libéralisme, cela signifie qu’elle ne peut constituer une alternative crédible au désenchantement du monde que ce dernier a provoqué. Pour Jean-Claude Michéa cela signifie aussi que les clivages gauche/droite sont dépassés : la droite se contente de contester les conséquences sociales des prémisses libérales auxquelles elle adhère. Symétriquement la gauche prétend contester ces mêmes prémisses alors qu’elle présente leurs conséquences comme des progrès dans la « libération » des hommes.

Retrouver le sens des solidarités humaines

Pour Jean-Claude Michéa, qui se réclame aussi de Christopher Lasch, il n’y a pas d’autre issue que de retrouver le sens du socialisme originel, avant qu’il ne soit récupéré par la gauche au moment de l’affaire Dreyfus et avant qu’il ne soit contaminé par l’idéologie du progrès, fille des Lumières et contre laquelle il s’affirmait. C’est-à-dire de retrouver le sens des relations, des communautés et des solidarités humaines.

On n’est, certes, pas forcé de partager sa conclusion. Mais son ouvrage ouvre cependant de très enrichissantes perspectives, très actuelles.

Michel Geoffroy
20/05/2011

Jean-Claude Michéa, Impasse Adam Smith : Brèves remarques sur l'impossibilité de dépasser le capitalisme sur sa gauche, Editeur Flammarion, coll. Champs, 2006, 184 pages

mardi, 24 mai 2011

Herder's Philosophy of the "Volksgeist"

Herder’s Theory of the Volksgeist

By Andrew Hamilton

Ex: http://counter-currents.com/

herder.jpgGerman philosopher and critic Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803) developed the concept of romantic or organic nationalism, a form of ethnic nationalism in which the state derives its political legitimacy from historic cultural or hereditary groups. The underlying assumption is that every ethnicity should be politically distinct. Herder’s ideas on the subject were expressed in his theory of the Volksgeist.

A medical student at the University of Königsberg in East Prussia in the 1760s, Herder quickly abandoned medicine for theology and philosophy, which brought him into contact with philosopher Immanuel Kant, one of his professors. To encourage Herder, his favorite pupil, Kant waived the fees customarily paid for attendance at his lectures, allowed the student to read some of his unpublished manuscripts, and introduced him to the writings of Montesquieu, Hume, and Rousseau.

Ordained in 1765, Herder became assistant master (teacher) at the Lutheran cathedral school in Riga. His religious works include Christian Writings (Christliche Schriften), 5 vols. (1794–98), Luther’s Catechism, with a catechetical instruction for the use of schools (1798), and On the Spirit of Hebrew Poetry (Vom Geist der hebräischen Poesie) (1782–3). According to Steven Martinson, the Lutheran pietism in which he was raised exhibited “a sense of equality among the ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ that carried over into Herder’s later understanding of community life.” Herder regretted that Martin Luther had not established a German national church. Christianity, he believed, had been (and should be) Germanized, just as other nations should adopt modifications of Christianity suitable to their own circumstances, ethnic consciousness, and experience.

Romantic Son of the Enlightenment

In Strasbourg he met Goethe, five years his junior, upon whom Herder’s ideas about poetry and its social role produced a powerful effect. Herder was a key figure, with Goethe and others, in the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement in German literature c. 1770–84.

Though a leader of the Romantics, Herder was nevertheless, according to Royal J. Schmidt, “a true son of the Aufklärung and seventeenth-century rationalism who was strongly influenced by the ideas of Leibniz, Kant, Spinoza, Montesquieu and Shaftesbury.” (“Cultural Nationalism in Herder,” Journal of the History of Ideas [June 1956], 407.) Because all human structures are transitory, Herder believed, tradition,

though in itself . . . an excellent institution of Nature, indispensable to the human race: but when it fetters the thinking faculty both in politics and education, and prevents all progress of the intellect, and all the improvement, that new times and circumstances demand, it is the true narcotic of the mind, as well to nations and sects, as to individuals.

In 1776, through Goethe’s influence, Herder was named Generalsuperintendent of the Lutheran clergy at Weimar, a post he held for the rest of his life.

HerderBuch.jpgA prolific author in many different fields (poetry, art, comparative philology and linguistics, religion, mythology, philosophy of history, metaphysics, psychology or philosophy of mind, aesthetics, and political philosophy), his books most relevant to this discussion are This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity (1774); Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity (Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit), 4 vols. (1784–91), his masterwork, in which he discussed all known peoples; and Letters for the Advancement of Humanity (Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität), 10 vols. (1793–7), a work largely of political philosophy written in response to the French Revolution.

Stylistically, according to Michael Forster [2] of the University of Chicago, Herder is “hostile towards systematicity in philosophy. He is in particular hostile to the ambitious sort of systematicity aspired to in the tradition of Spinoza, Wolff, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel: the ideal of a comprehensive theory whose parts display some sort of strict overall pattern of derivation.” He was skeptical that such systematic designs could work, as opposed to creating the illusion that they do, and believed system-building closes off inquiry and disregards or distorts vital empirical evidence. Herder’s views “established an important countertradition in German philosophy (which subsequently included e.g. F. Schlegel, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein).” He also harbored “a general commitment to empiricism and against apriorism in philosophy which leads him to avoid familiar sorts of apriorist arguments in philosophy.”

Herder and Biological Race

Herder was a key figure in the development of two well-known philosophical-anthropological concepts.

One is Zeitgeist (zeit time + geist spirit), “spirit of the time” or “spirit of the age,” signifying the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and political climate of an era. Herder reportedly coined the term in his 1769 critique of a work by German philologist Christian Adolph Klotz.

The second concept, the one relevant here, is Volksgeist, usually translated as “national spirit” or “national character.” In German, however, Nationalgeist is the term for national spirit, and Nationalcharakter for national character. Volksgeist means “spirit of the Volk.”

In a holistic sense, race consists of dimensions beyond physical anthropology or population genetics. Just as every distinct population shares common morphological and physiological traits, despite within-group variation they likewise express unique group psychology, intelligence, behavior, character, morals and, ultimately, culture and civilization. (Jared Taylor: “White Americans believed race was a fundamental aspect of individual and group identity. They believed people of different races differed in temperament, ability, and the kind of societies they built.”) In fact, such second-order phenomena are the aspects of race that preoccupy most “racists” most of the time.

Herder’s Volksgeist is highly compatible with this modern understanding of race. This is why he is frequently viewed as a “racist” by modern academics (e.g., Cedric Dover, “The Racial Philosophy of Johann Herder,” British Journal of Sociology [1952]: 124–33) or as a forerunner of Nazism. It is easy to see why this is the case.

German physical anthropologist Egon von Eickstedt maintained that Herder and Christoph Meiners (1747–1810) were the founders of the anthropological theory of history. Anthropologist Ilse Schwidetzky wrote that Herder “entertained the general conviction that the character of a people, and subsequently their history, is determined by their nature and heredity.”

However, Herder’s implicitly racial or ethnic understanding of Volk was not predicated upon a biological worldview, at least not an explicit one. Moreover, it reflected the biological confusion and limited scientific understanding of the time. As Oxford biologist John R. Baker noted, in Herder’s Ideas,

his arguments appear rather feeble and in places actually foolish. For instance, he says that all men are the same in internal anatomy, and even—almost unbelievably—that a few hundred years ago the inhabitants of Germany were Patagonians [natives of a region located at the southern tip of South America]. He mentions [Johann F.] Blumenbach [the German father of modern anthropology, who developed a 5-race model of mankind], but will not agree to the division of mankind into races. ‘Race [he uses this actual word] implies a difference of origin [i.e., not the Biblical creation],’ he claims; and this difference he denies. ‘Denn jedes Volk ist Volk,’ he insists; for him, the reality is not the race but the nation with its national speech.

Herder shows better sense than some of the philosophers of his time [Baker mentions Rousseau and several other eminent figures] in rejecting the idea that the anthropoid apes could be regarded as human. He tells us that nature has divided the apes and monkeys into many genera and species, but man is unitary. ‘Neither the Pongo [chimpanzee] nor the Longimanus [gibbon] is your brother; but truly the American [Amerindian] and the Negro are.

Herder’s religious convictions prevented him from classifying mankind with animals. He believed national groups belonged not to “systematic natural history,” but to “the physico-geographical history of man.” With Montesquieu, he viewed human populations as products of the lands they inhabited, the climates in which they developed, and the circumstances that shaped their respective histories:

The structure of the earth, in its natural variety and diversity . . . Seas, mountain ranges and rivers are the most natural boundaries not only of lands but also of peoples, customs, languages and empires, and they have been, even in the greatest revolutions in human affairs, the directing lines or limits of world history.

Yet, despite these caveats, Herder’s worldview was unmistakably racialist, as can be seen in his observations concerning the Chinese:

. . . show what kind of nation it is, and evince it’s genetic character: a character which equally meets the eye on contemplation of the whole, and inspection of its parts, even to dress, food, customs, domestic economy, arts, and amusements. This northeastern mungal [Mongol] nation could no more change its natural form by artificial regulations, even though enduring for thousands of years, than a man can change his nature, that is, the innate character of his race and complexion. It was planted on this spot of the Globe: and  . . . this race of men, in this region, could never become Greeks or Romans. Chinese they were, and will remain: a people endowed by nature with small eyes, a short nose, a flat forehead, little beard, large ears, and a protuberant belly: what their organization could produce, it has produced. . . . Nature seems to have refused them as well as many other nations in this corner of the World, great invention in Science: while on the other hand he has beautifully conferred on their little eyes a spirit of application, adroit diligence and nicety, a talent of imitating with art whatever their cupidity deems useful. Eternally moving, eternally occupied, they are forever going and coming, in quest of gain, or in fulfillment of their offices. . . .

Elsewhere he makes the reverse case: “Had Greece been peopled with Chinese, our Greece would never have existed.”

Jacques Godechot, a French Jewish historian, wrote that for Herder “the destiny of national groups is fixed by imperatives beyond popular [i.e., political] modification. These imperatives are race (Herder did not formulate a theory of race, but to a certain extent he can be considered as a forerunner of modern racism), language, tradition, and natural frontiers.”

It can be said that Herder inserted a full-blown, de facto racial-ethnic view of history and mankind at a level one step above that of biology (race). In Herder’s treatment, at least, the consequences are much the same as they would be for a more biologically-oriented approach.

Still, rejection of, or lack of clarity about, basic raciology is best avoided. It leads whites badly astray, as witness the consequences of the petty but internecine nationalisms of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Volksgeist

The Volksgeist, the spirit of the folk, is a manifestation of the people; it animates the nation. “There is only one class in the state, the Volk (not the rabble), and the king belongs to this class as well as the peasant.” The Volksgeist is as old as the Volk, and evolves with the national group. There is a life of national groups, and withering and death marks the end of a Volk.

Every human group is, as an empirical matter, different from every other group, each nationality (or Volk) is characterized by its own unique spirit. Each people possesses its own cultural traits shaped by ancestral history and the experience of a particular physical environment, and mentally constructs its social life through language, literature, religion, the arts, customs, and folklore inherited from earlier generations. The Volk is the family writ large.

Law, too, must be adapted to the spirit of each nation, for rules applied to one nation are not valid for another. The only effective and legitimate governments are those that develop naturally from within particular nations and reflect, in their differences from other polities, the cultures of the people they govern.

It follows that two nations cannot have the same Volksgeist. Therefore, Herder rejected the French revolutionary (and contemporary) dogma that man is everywhere the same, whether he lives in Africa or England, or that every nation is fundamentally identical with every other nation, and thereby should be made homogeneous with them. Herder, Godechot writes, is staunchly opposed to all that is cosmopolite and universalist in character: “In contrast, he believes in particularism.”

Herder constantly likened the Volksgeist, “singular, marvelous, inexplicable, ineffable,” to a plant that grows, blooms, and withers. Just as the “botanist cannot obtain a complete knowledge of a plant, unless he follow it from the seed, through its germination, blossoming, and decay,” so too must the historian seek to understand the uniqueness of the present by reference to its roots in the past.

In other words, the Volksgeist can best be understood through the phenomena of history. Therefore, the study of history must play a central role in education. The objective of historical instruction, which should be nationalistic in character, is to teach how the Fatherland evolved over time.

herder-id5361179.jpgRather than giving priority to the study of ancient and modern history, as was common in the 18th century, Herder redeemed the history of the Middle Ages, feeling that it had been given short shrift. He also refused to restrict history to the study of politics, wars, and dynasties. For Herder, history was primarily the history of the Volk: its language, culture, customs, religion, literature, law, and folklore. (A writer and collector of poetry, folk songs, and legends, and an early student of comparative literature, Herder published a collection of folk songs in 1773 entitled Voices of the People in Their Songs [Stimmen der Völker in ihren Liedern].)

Herder’s views of both the German and the Slavic Volksgeist did not match existing territorial borders, but were pan-national in character.

Despite being Prussian, Herder rejected Prussian nationalism as too narrow. An intense German nationalist, he was imbued with the spirit of the entire German Volk: “He is deserving of glory and gratitude who seeks to promote the unity of the territories of Germany through writings, manufacture, and institutions.” Herder believed that Austria, too, should be part of Germany.

Likewise, he conceived of Slavs as a Volk, rather than extolling specific polities. Thus, he wrote of the Slavic, as opposed to the Russian, Polish, or some other politically-defined Volksgeist. Herder predicted the Slavic nations would one day be the real power in Europe, as western Europeans would reject Christianity and rot away, while the eastern European nations would adhere to their religion and to their idealism. Through his concept of Volksgeist, which directly influenced Slavic intellectuals, and his high praise for the Slavic people and culture, Herder became an intellectual godfather of Pan-Slavism [4].

Herder rejected the mixture of Völker, each of which he believed was adapted to a particular ecological niche. Ideally, “if every one of these nations had remained in its place, the Earth might have been considered as a garden, where in one spot one human national plant, in another, another, bloomed in its proper figure and nature.” But just “as men are not firmly rooted plants, the calamities of famine, earthquakes, war and the like, must in time remove them from their place to some other more or less different.” Almost every people on Earth “has migrated at least once, sooner or later, to a greater distance, or less.”

On Language

For Herder, language became a key cultural differentiator and identifier:

Has a people anything dearer than the speech of its fathers? In its speech resides its whole thought-domain, its tradition, history, religion, and basis of life, all its heart and soul. To deprive a people of its speech is to deprive it of its one eternal good. . . . As God tolerates all the different languages in the world, so also should a ruler not only tolerate but honor the various languages of his peoples. . . . The best culture of a people cannot be expressed through a foreign language; it thrives on the soil of a nation most beautifully, and, I may say, it thrives only by means of the nation’s inherited and inheritable dialect. With language is created the heart of a people; and is it not a high concern, amongst so many peoples—Hungarians, Slavs, Rumanians, etc.—to plant seeds of well-being for the far future and in the way that is dearest and most appropriate to them?

Herder’s stress on the centrality of language, including dangerously divisive multilingual diversity within the white race, or even a single white state, impacted the development of European nationalism during the succeeding two centuries. (Linguistic diversity within multiracial states like the US is desirable because, genetically speaking, language barriers tend to hinder hybridization. You do not want anything like “English Only” in a multiracial milieu.) After Herder, European national languages assumed a heavily romanticized, mystical aura in nationalist thought. Worse, language was used as a poor stand-in for race in whites’ construction of their concepts of “people” and “nation” in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, and others realized that race and language are not interchangeable, that language is not an adequate surrogate for race. Nor should language balkanize and divide whites, as it has to date. It is imperative that we transcend the currently impermeable linguistic barriers that seal whites into airtight national compartments, rendering us “foreign” and mutually unintelligible to one another. Rather, we must talk and move ceaselessly across the old territorial, linguistic, and intellectual borders as a prelude to full-fledged transnational white cooperation.

The Jews

In terms of religion, for Herder there was no continuity between (for him, legitimate) Old Testament Judaism and the Pharisaic Judaism of Jesus’ time, which he regarded as degenerate in form.

As far as ethnicity goes, Herder did not think of Jews primarily as individuals, but as a Volk. The Jews, he wrote, “in the land of their fathers, and in the midst of other nations . . . remain as they were; and even when mixed with other people they may be distinguished for some generations downward.” His view of Völker compelled him to regard Jews as alien to Germany and Europe:

For thousands of years, since their emergence on the stage of history, the Jews were a parasitic growth on the stem of other nations, a race of cunning brokers all over the earth. They have caused great evil to many ill-organized states, by retarding the free and natural economic development of their indigenous population.

In another passage reflective of Herder’s racial-ethnic worldview, he says:

The Jewish people is and remains in Europe an Asiatic people alien to our part of the world, bound to that old law which it received in a distant climate, and which, according to its confession, it cannot do away with . . . [Emphasis added.]

How many of this alien people can be tolerated without injury to the true citizens?

A ministry in which a Jew is supreme, a household in which a Jew has the key of the wardrobe and the management of the finances, a department or commissariat in which Jews do the principal business, are Pontine marshes which cannot be drained.

However, in the opinion of some Jews, Herder’s greatest sin was his formulation of the theory of the Volksgeist itself. David Isadore Lieberman, an anti-white publicist, writes:

Herder’s most important contribution to the intellectual history of antisemitism was entirely unintended: his novel argument for the organic development of national cultures, which incorporated elements of geography, language, kinship, and historical continuity. Although Herder maintained (with occasional lapses) that no culture enjoyed a privileged position with respect to any other, his model of the organic natural culture left Jews living in the Diaspora exposed, susceptible to charges that their culture was “inorganic” and therefore inauthentic.

This last sentence is dishonest or possibly ignorant. To Herder, Jews definitely constituted an organic, “authentic” Volk. (See Frederick M. Barnard, “The Hebrews and Herder’s Political Creed,” Modern Language Review [Oct. 1959], 533.) It would be correct to say that Herder’s model leaves Jews exposed to the charge of subverting and destroying—and today, committing genocide against—other authentic cultures and peoples.

Finally, Herder’s contention that “No nationality has been solely designated by God as the chosen people of the earth” must also be classified as anti-Semitic, flatly contradicting as it does the central dogma of Judaism, Jews, organized Jewry, and all governments today.

Editor’s Bibliographical Note

A number of Herder’s works are available in English translation:

Another Philosophy of History and Selected Political Writings [5], ed. and trans. Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004)

God, Some Conversations [6], trans. Frederick T. Burckhardt (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1940)

On the Origin of Language: Two Essays [7] (by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Gottfried von Herder), trans. John H. Moran and Alexander Gode (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986)

On World History: An Anthology [8], ed. Hans Adler and Ernest A. Menze, trans. Ernest A. Menze and Michael Palmer (M. E. Sharpe, 1996)

Philosophical Writings [9], ed. Michael N. Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Reflections on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind [10] (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968)

Sculpture: Some Observations on Shape and Form from Pygmalion’s Creative Dream [11], trans. Jason Gaiger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002)

Selected Early Works, 1764-1767: Addresses, Essays, and Drafts; Fragments on Recent German Literature [12], ed. Ernest A. Menze and Karl Menges, trans. Ernest A. Menze and Michael Palma (University Park, Penn.: Penn State Press, 1992)

Selected Writings on Aesthetics [13], ed. and trans. Gregory Moore (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)

Shakespeare [14], trans. Gregory Moore (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008)

The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry [15](Toronto: University of Toronto Libraries, 2011).


Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2011/05/herders-theory-of-the-volksgeist/

mardi, 01 mars 2011

The Culture of Critique & the Pathogenesis of Modern Society

The Culture of Critique & the Pathogenesis of Modern Society

Michael O'Meara

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

Reinhart Koselleck
Critique and Crises: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society
Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988

La politique, c’est le destin. — Napoleon

Koselleck’s Critique and Crisis (1959) is one of the great dissertations of the 20th-century German university system.

It cast new light not just on the past it re-presented, but on the present, whose own light informed its re-presentation.

This was especially the case with the potentially cataclysmic standoff between American liberalism and Russian Communism and the perspective it gave to Koselleck’s study of the Enlightenment origins of the Modern World.

How was it, he asked, that these two Cold War super-powers seemed bent on turning Europe, especially Germany, into a nuclear wasteland?

The answer, he suspected, had something to do with the moralizing Utopianism of 18th-century rationalism, whose heritage ideologically animated each hegemon.

1. The Absolutist Origins of the Modern State

Koselleck was one of Carl Schmitt’s postwar “students” and his work is indebted to Schmitt’s The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes (1938).

Like his mentor, Koselleck saw modern ideologies, despite their atheistic rejection of faith, as forms of “political theology” that spoke to the faith-based heart that decides how one is to live.

In this sense, the self-proclaimed Enlightenment of the 18th century was a philosophical rebuttal to political Absolutism, whose institutional response to the breakdown of medieval Christendom occurred in ways that frustrated the liberal aspirations of the rising bourgeoisie.

In the century-long blood-letting that had followed the Protestant critique of medieval Catholicism, Europe’s ecclesiastical unity and its traditional social supports were everywhere shattered.

As the old estates broke down and old ties and loyalties were severed, there followed a period of anarchy, in which Catholics and Protestants zealously shed each others blood in the name of their contending truths.

In this sectarian strife — this bellum omnium contra omnes — where ecclesiastical authority ceased to exist and each man was thrown back upon his individual conscience, morality became a banner of war and the public observance of morality a justification for murdering Europeans with dissenting beliefs.

It was the advent of the Absolutist State system, philosophically anticipated in Hobbes’ Leviathan, that brought these bloody religious conflicts to a halt, establishing a peaceful basis to European life — by “privatizing” morality, secularizing authority, and depriving individual mentalities of political effect.

The neutralization of religious belief that came with the Absolutist secularization of the State would secure conditions requisite to the citizen’s peaceful pursuit of his private will or gain, as private ideals ceased to be obligatory duties and the State became “the artifact of atomized individuals.”

Absolutist regimes succeeded in this way in “reducing measures of contingency, conflict, and compulsion” to the status of differences of opinion — bare, in effect, of religious significance, as “external compulsion” imposed restraints on the individual’s “inner freedom.”

The historians’ designated Age of Absolutism and Enlightenment begins, then, with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which brought not just the Thirty Years War in the German-speaking lands, but all Europe’s religious wars to an end (except on the borderlands of Ireland and the Balkans) — and ends only with the advent of another European civil war, which opened with the liberal revolutions of 1776/1789 and closed with the English triumph over Napoleon in 1814.

History, though, rarely conforms to the tidy categories scholars make of it.

Unlike the Continent, England went from religious war to Absolutism and then to bourgeois revolution and finally to a bourgeois Restoration all in the course of a half-century (c. 1642–1688), experiencing an intense though only brief period of Absolutism.

England’s expanding maritime power, opened to all the world it dominated, had, in fact, merely a transitional need of Absolutism, for it would soon become the first implicitly liberal of the “modern” regimes.

Koselleck focuses on the longer, more pronounced Continental developments, treating England as a variant of the larger trend.

In his depiction, the Absolutist State system emerging after the Treaty of Westphalia was based on a transformation of political authority — which divided the “public sphere” into two sharply separate domains: That of political authority proper (the sovereign State) and that of society, conceived as a subaltern realm of individual “subjects.”

The subject’s moral conscience in this system was subordinated to the requirements of political necessity — what Hobbes called “reason.”  This restricted morality to the social realm of private opinion, depriving it of political effect.

With Absolutism, the public interest, about which the sovereign alone had the right to decide, ceased to lay under the jurisdiction of the individual’s moral conscience.

The Continent’s new monarchical States — with Louis XIV’s France the model of the others — would govern according to a raison d’état (Staatsräson), which made no reference to religious considerations.

Law here was severed from special interests and religious factions, becoming part of a domain whose political decisions — ideally — transcended “Church, estate, and party.”

“To traditional moral doctrines, [Hobbes] opposes one whose theme is political reason.”

Persecuting churches and religiously bound social fractions were hereby forced to give way to the sovereign authority of the Absolutist monarch, who recognized no higher authority than God Himself.

As Absolutist peace took priority to faith, the individual subject — previously situated in a loose medieval hierarchy, imbued with certain corporate rights and responsibilities — was transformed into an apolitical subject.

He had, as such, to submerge his conscience to reasons of State — to reasons necessary for maintaining the peace.

This privatization of morality dictated by the State’s secularization was not directed against religion per se, but against a religious conscience whose political claims, in a period of general breakdown, threatened war.

What the Absolutist State did — and what Hobbes theoretically legitimated in the Leviathan — was to transform the individual’s conscience into a matter of “opinion,” of subjective belief, separate from politics — and thus from the political reasons of the State.

This was accomplished by making the public interest the prerogative of the sovereign, not that of the individual’s religious conscience, for the latter inevitably led to religious strife.

In this secular political system, State policy and laws became the sole concern of the sovereign monarch, who stood above religion, anchoring his laws not in a higher transcendence, but in State imperatives.

In Hobbes’ famous formulation: “Laws are made by authority, not by truth.”

Hereafter, State policy and laws would be legislated by reasons of State — not the moral conscience and not self-interest and faction.  For the State could fulfill its function of securing peace and maintaining order only if individuals ceded their rights to the sovereign, who was to embody their larger welfare.

Contested issues were thereby reduced to differences of opinion that could be resolved by reasons of State.

Through Absolute sovereignty, it was possible again to create an internal realm of peace, separate from other Absolutist State systems, each of which possessed a similar peaceful interior, where the individual was free to believe whatever he wished as long as no effort was made to impose his “private” belief on the public, whether Catholic or Protestant.

This would keep religious fanaticism from trespassing on domestic tranquility and, at the same time, guarantee the State’s integrity.

Among Absolutist States, relations remained, of course, that of “a state of nature” — for each upheld and pursued policies based on their own rational sense of self-interest (raison d’état).

Conflict and war between Absolutist States were nevertheless minimized — not just by the fact that they accepted the integrity of the other’s moral conscience — but also by a sense of sharing the same Christian civilization, the same standards of significance and style, the same general, interrelated history that distinguished them from non-Europeans.

On this basis, the community of European States after 1648 grew into a family of sovereign powers, each respectful of the others’ domestic integrity, each of whose kings or queens shared the blood of other royal families, each of whose wars with other Europeans was governed by a jus publicum europaeum.

2. The Culture of Critique

It was the failure to comprehend the nature of the Absolutist State system (its avoidance of divisive political questions of faith and belief) that gave rise to the Enlightenment and its culture of critique.

For once the religious wars came to an end and authority was secularized, European society “took off.”

By the time Louis XIV died in 1715, the bourgeoisie, formerly an important but subordinate stratum of medieval European society, had become the chief economic power of an 18th-century society more and more dependent on its economic prowess. Made up of “merchants, bankers, tax lessees, and other businessmen” who had acquired great wealth and social prestige, this rising class (whose deism and materialism took “political” form in liberalism’s scientistic ideology) was nevertheless kept from State power and powerlessly suffered monarchical infringements on its monied wealth.

Resentful of State authority, the intelligentsia of this rising class took its stand in the private moral realm, which the Absolutist State had set aside for the subject and his moral conscience.

Through this breech between the public and the private, the chief ideologue of this rising bourgeoisie, John Locke, would step. His Essay Concerning Human Understanding – “the Holy Scripture of the modern bourgeoisie” — helped blur the boundary between moral and State law, as the former assumed a new authority and the distinction between the two diminished.

Pace Hobbes, Locke argued that bourgeois moral laws (now divorced from religion and anchored in rationalist notions of self-interest devoid of transcendental reference) had arisen in the human conscience, which the State had exempt from interference. As such, the citizen had a right to pass moral judgements on the State.

Such judgements, whatever the motive, eventually made State law dependent on the consent or rejection — the rule, in effect — of the bourgeoisie’s allegedly “objective” opinion.

In this situation, the bourgeois view of virtue and vice — its “religion of technicity” — took on a political charge, superseding the realm of private individual opinion, as it became “public opinion.”

At the same time, bourgeois critics favored the risk-free sphere of the unpolitical private realm, where they sought to dictate policy. Instead, then, of forthrightly challenging the underlying metaphysical principles of the Absolutist order, they framed their defining metaphysical identity (matters of faith — in this case their godless theology) in moral and economic terms devoid of political responsibility.

Bourgeois morality, not the State’s “reason,” proceeded in this way to take hold of the public — society — and set the standard for the “moral value of human action.”

This opened the way to a reconfiguration of the Absolutist relationship between morality and politics.

The public realm in Locke’s bourgeois philosophy was accordingly re-conceived as a social realm of individual consciences and this realm’s opinion as the “law” that was to bind the public.

Bourgeois morality, as such, not only entered, but soon conquered society, as its private views rose to that of public opinion.

Few, moreover, would be able to resist the pressure of its judgment.

“Reasons of State” were henceforth subject to the secular, calculating “reason” of the bourgeoisie — as “reason” ceased to be the avoidance of civil war and became the self-interest of the rationalist acting individual.

This made society increasingly independent of the State, just as State laws were increasingly subject to the “empowering” moral (and economic) judgments of society.

In the course of the 18th century, the bourgeois as citizen would assume, through his culture of critique, the “rank of a supreme tribunal” — ultimately passing judgment on the State (though doing so safely removed from the day-to-day imperatives of the political realm).

In England, following the oh-so Glorious Revolution of 1688 (a terrible, fateful year, with more to follow, in Irish history), the Whig bourgeoisie, through Parliament, became dominant, entering into an alliance with the constitutionally-bound monarch (William of Orange).

On the more religiously polarized continent, where Absolutist States had a greater role to play, the antithesis between State legislation and bourgeois secular morality (rooted in Protestantism’s critical essence) assumed a different, more antagonistic character.

This continental polarization of morals and politics — compounded by the growing social weight of the bourgeoisie and the discontent generated by its political disenfranchisement — grew in the course of the 18th century, as the bourgeoisie increasingly assumed the leadership of “society.”

Its moral critique of the State and of the ancien régime — a critique posed in secular and rationalist, rather than Christian terms — is what is known as the “Enlightenment,” that metapolitical “culture of critique,” whose light allegedly emanated from the bourgeoisie’s rational conscience (which was modeled in many ways on that of the Jews, for it was based on the dictates of money and its unpolitical affirmation of the private).

3. The Crisis of the Old Order

“When and whenever [men] are subjects without being citizens, they inevitably endow other concerns and pursuits—economic, social, cultural—with an independent and hence rival authority.” This was the great failing of Absolutism.

In such a situation, the voluntary associations of the bourgeoisie—Masonic lodges, salons, clubs, coffee-houses, academies, sociétés de pensées, the “Republic of Letters”—became rival centers of moral authority and eventually rival models of political authority.

The criticism of these bourgeois organs sought to “test” the validity or truth of its subject, making reason a factor of judgement in its process of pro and con.

Bourgeois judgements critical of the political system set off, in turn, a crisis threatening the existing State.

As scientific materialists, armed with a naive analytic-empiricist epistemology, such bourgeois critics waged their subversive campaign with no appreciation of existing political realities or the imperatives and limits these realities imposed. This would make their moral crusade unrealistic, Utopian, unconcerned with the “contingency, conflict, and compulsion” that occupies and defines the political field.

Their Utopian proposals (their anti-political politics) constituted, as such, no actual political alternative, based as they were on a purely formal, abstract understanding of the political realm, which it subjected to the individual’s moral conscience.

But once the private moral realm started to impinge on the political sphere of the Absolutist State, the State itself was again called into question.

First unconsciously and then increasingly consciously, the bourgeois Enlightenment applied its Utopian and ultimately hypocritical standards to the State, whose political imperatives were ignored rather than recognized for what they were—so as not to complicate its own geometrical schemes of reform.

The Enlightenment, it followed, was wont to see itself in moral terms, not political—not even metapolitical—ones.

This self-deceiving politics could only end in ideological excess and terror—for the sole way to realize its Utopian political theology would be by forcing others to accept and submit to it.

The result, Koselleck concludes, was the advent of the modern condition—this “sense that we are being sucked into an open and unknown future, the pace of which has kept us in a constant state of breathelessness ever since the dissolution of the traditional ständische societies.”

The turbulent “tribune of reason” bequeathed by the Enlightenment aimed, moreover, at every sphere of human endeavor—not just the Absolutist State, traditional Catholic Christianity, or the numerous corporate restraints inhibiting the market.

Everything historically given was, as such, to be re-conceived as a historical process that had to be re-directed, reformed, and re-planned, as the dictates of fate gave way to the rationalist obliteration of political aporia (i.e., the impasses or challenges posed by exceptional situations determined only by the sovereign).

Through its Règne de la Critique, the bourgeoisie (as prosecutor, judge, and jury) subjected the State to an enlightened conscience that debunked its “rationality” and increasingly advocated, or implied, its replacement.

With this rationalist critique of Absolutism came an unfolding philosophy of history—which promised a victory that was to be gained without struggle or war, that applied to all mankind, and that would bring about a better, more rational, and peaceful future—if only “reason” (i.e., bourgeois interests) was allowed to rule.

Through this critique, politics—the tough decisions fundamental to human existence—was dissolved into an Utopian project indifferent to the historical given. Everything, it followed, was subject to criticism, nothing was taboo—not the “order of human things,” not even life itself would be spared the alienation that came with the critic’s unpolitical reason.

Then, as the critic assumed the right to subject the whole world to his verdict, acting as “the king of kings,” criticism was “transformed into a maelstrom that sucks the present from under the feet of the critic”—for his criticisms amounted to an endless assault on the present in the name of a far-off, but allegedly enlightened future.

4. Modern Pathogenesis

At the highest level, Koselleck offers “a generic theory of the modern world”—one that seeks to explain something of our age to us.

In his view, criticism engendered crisis, calling the future into question.

The Enlightenment’s culture of critique could, however, only culminate in revolution—a revolution whose new order would privilege the rich and powerful (and, in time, the Jews).

By subordinating law to morality, ignoring the differences that divide men over the great questions of existence, the liberal State born of Enlightenment culture stripped sovereignty of its power.

Henceforth bourgeois morality became the invisible framework of the State, as sovereign authority was changed into an act of persuasion and reason—and the essence of politics (no longer the polemic over fundamental problems of human existence) became the non-political rule of a discursive bourgeoisie indifferent to matters of faith and desirous of a fate-less society without a sovereign State.

As social and political realities were indiscriminately mixed and subjected to the invisible opinion of the bourgeois public, based on an ostensively objective reason, everything failing to accord with that opinion became an injustice, subject to reform.

Society here assumed the right to abrogate whatever laws it wished, inadvertently establishing a reign of permanent revolution.

Refusing to recognize the State’s amoral (rather than immoral) character, the emerging bourgeois political system—with its culpablizing, but “value free” politics and its civil ideal taken as the universal destiny of all humanity—not infrequently had to resort to naked force to realize its Utopia: the terror and mass killings that followed 1789, the nuclear holocaust inherent in the Cold War, the on-going, unrelenting destructuration of the local and global today.

The consequence has been liberalism’s non-political State (whether in its 19th-century guise as a Night Watchman State or in its 20th-century Nanny State form). This State replaced politics with morality, tradition with planning, disagreements with a cold indifference to all that matters. It became thus a legal order, a Rechtsstaat, supposedly unattached to any constituting system of ascription or belief, and thus beyond any “exception” that might make visible the actual basis of bourgeois rule.

In this situation, where politics were negated and political problems were reduced to “organizational-technical and economic-sociological tasks,” the world was emptied of “seriousness” and turned into a vast realm of entertainment, where the bourgeois was allowed to enjoy the fruits of his acquisitions.

With liberalism, then, politics ceases to be a destiny and becomes a technique hostile to all who refuse its philistine philosophy of history—for the linear notion of progress inherent in this philosophy undermines and “reforms” everything that has historically ensured the integrity of white life.

Source: TOQ Online, Dec. 24, 25, & 26 2009