Athens and Jerusalem \  Part I  \ Parmenides in Chains


     So Hegel taught, but he had found all this in Kant. When Kant summoned metaphysics before the tribunal of reason he knew that it would be condemned. And when, later, Fichte, the young Schelling and Hegel wished to obtain from the same tribunal a revision of the case, they also knew that the cause of metaphysics was forever lost and hopeless. Kant strained all the tremendous powers of his dialectic in order to rid the human soul of the strange elements that he called "sensuousness." But dialectic did not suffice. All that is customarily called "proof" loses, beyond a certain limit, the power of constraining and subduing. One can easily "prove" that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles, but how is one to "prove" to a man that if the very sky falls in upon his head he must remain calm under the ruins, for what happened had to happen? To prove such a thing is impossible. One can only suggest it to himself and to others, as one can only suggest to himself and to others but not prove that the deus ex machina is the most absurd of suppositions and that Necessity has received the sovereign right of driving the great Parmenides on.

     Submitting to his destiny or, to use Hegel's terms, to the spirit of the time, Kant did not disdain suggestion as a means of searching for the truth. The principal thing is to obtain "universality and necessity," the rest is secondary. Suggestion obtains universality and necessity quite as well as do proofs. One would think that there would be no place for prayer where it is a question of the critique of the pure theoretical reason or the critique of the pure practical reason. But Kant asked permission of no one and addressed prayers to duty, and this passes for "proof." One would think that the ancient "anathema" had already long since been banished from the domain of philosophical thought, but when it is a question of ridding the human soul of all that is "pathological" (for Kant the term "pathological" does not mean diseased or abnormal; he uses it as a synonym for "sensuous"), Kant does not disdain anathema and even anathema passes for proof. "Suppose," he writes, "that someone says his lust is irresistible when the desired object and opportunity are present. Ask him whether he would not control his passion if, in front of the house where he has this opportunity, a gallows were erected on which he would be hanged immediately after gratifying his lust. We do not have to guess very long what his answer would be. But ask him whether he thinks it would be possible for him to overcome his love of life, however great it may be, if his sovereign threatened him with the same sudden death unless he made a false deposition against an honorable man whom the ruler wished to destroy under a plausible pretext. Whether he would or not he perhaps will not venture to say; but that it would be possible for him he would certainly admit without hesitation. He judges, therefore, that he can do something because he knows that he ought, and he recognizes that he is free a fact which, without the moral law, would have remained unknown to him."

     What is the meaning of this "argumentation?" And does there not remain here only a shadow of that freedom of which Kant speaks with such eloquence here and elsewhere in his works and which the best representatives of philosophy in their time have proclaimed? To justify his categorical imperatives Kant found no means other than suggestion and incantation. He prayed long and ardently before the altar of duty and when he felt in himself the necessary power or rather, when he felt that he had no more power, that he himself no longer existed, that another power was working through him (when "he raised himself to abstract generality," to speak as Hegel did), and when he became the blind and will-less instrument of this power then he wrote the Critique of Practical Reason.

     The theoretical reason cannot be satisfied as long as it has not convinced everyone, as long as it has not dictated its laws to nature. The practical reason leaves nature in peace, but its "will to power" demands that men should submit to it. The fate of men, then, is always the parere (obedience) while the jubere (commanding) remains at the disposal of the "idea," the "principle." The goal of philosophy thus comes down to this: to suggest to men, in one way or another, the conviction that the living being must not command but obey and that the refusal to obey is a mortal sin punished by eternal damnation. And this is what is called freedom! Man is free to choose the jubere instead of the parere, but he cannot bring it about that he who has chosen the parere should be damned. Here freedom ends, here everything is pre-determined. "Even the author and founder of the universe cannot change anything of this. His freedom also has been reduced to obedience. Kant goes even further than Seneca: he will not admit that God commanded even once. No one has ever commanded; all have always obeyed. Every command is a deus ex machina which signifies the end of philosophy. This he knows a priori. But he also proves a posteriori, as we have just seen, that the moral law is realized otherwise, it is true, that the commandments of the theoretical reason, but nevertheless realized: the "voluptuary" will be afraid of the gallows, while the man who obeys the moral law will feel no fear even in the face of the gallows. Why did Kant need to concern himself with such a "realization"? Why threaten the voluptuary with the gallows? Why not give him the "freedom" to follow his inclinations, since freedom is recognized as man's fundamental prerogative? But such freedom is for the philosopher even more hateful than the deus ex machina and, in order to kill it, Kant did not disdain even the empirical gallows which, it seems, do not hesitate to become involved in the affairs of pure a priori judgments. But there is a limit to philosophical patience. The noble Epictetus cut off the noses and ears of his intellectual opponents; Kant is prepared to hang them. And they are obviously right; they have no other means at their disposal. Without the help of empirical constraint (Aristotle's bia) the "pure" ideas would never obtain the victory and the triumph that they so highly esteem.

     And yet Kant "made the reckoning without the innkeeper." The gallows will not help him or, in any case, will not always help him. He speaks of a "voluptuary," that is to say, he clothes the man with his shroud even before his fate is decided. It is permissible to cut off the voluptuary's nose and ears, it is permissible to hang him, but one may not under any circumstances grant him freedom. But try for a moment to come down from the "heights" of pure reason and ask yourself who is this voluptuary whom Kant so implacably executes. Kant will not answer; he prefers to remain in the domain of general concepts. But it is not for nothing that people have always sought to make general concepts pure and transparent. The concept of the voluptuary is the Pushkin who wrote The Egyptian Nights; it is the Don Juan of Spanish legend; it is the Orpheus and Pygmalion of ancient mythology; it is also the immortal author of The Song of Songs.

     If Kant had thought about it or rather if, before playing the role of hypnotizer, he had not himself been hypnotized by omnipotent Necessity he would have felt that the thing was not so simple and self-evident and that neither his shroud nor his gallows pre-judge or decide anything here. Orpheus was not afraid to go down to Hades to seek out Eurydice; Pygmalion demanded of the gods a miracle; Don Juan pressed the hand of the statue that had come alive; in Pushkin a timid young man gives his life for a night with Cleopatra. And in The Song of Songs we read that love is strong as death. What remains of Kant's suggestions? And what eternal truths can his practical reason, and the moral law that this reason contains, furnish? And is it not clear that true freedom is found infinitely far from the regions that the practical reason has chosen and where it resides? Is it not clear that where the law exists, where the parere exists, there is not and cannot be any freedom, that freedom is inextricably bound to that jubere which we have become accustomed to consider as the source of all errors, all absurdities, and all that is forbidden? Pygmalion did not ask anyone if he could demand a miracle for himself. Orpheus broke the eternal law and went down to Hades, though he should not and could not have gone there, though no mortal had ever gone down there before him. And the gods approved their daring, and even we others, we cultivated men, when we hear the story of their deeds, sometimes forget all that we have been taught and also rejoice with the gods.

     Pygmalion wished the impossible, and because he wished it the impossible became possible, the statue became a living woman. If our "thought" incorporated in itself the ardent passion of Pygmalion, thus acquiring a new dimension, many things considered "impossible" would become possible and what seems false would become true. Then such impossible things would happen as that Kant would cease to characterize Pygmalion as a voluptuary and that Hegel would recognize that a miracle is not a violation of the spirit but, on the contrary, the impossibility of miracles is the Worst violation of the spirit. Or am I deceived and would they continue to repeat what they have always said? Would they continue to suggest to us that the passions and the desires (Neigungen) must bow down before duty and that the true life is the life of the man who knows how to rise above the "contingent" and the "temporary?" Was Calvin right: "Not all are created under the same condition, but to some eternal life is preordained, to others eternal damnation"? Who will answer this question?

   home    intro    texts    links    biblio ToC