Athens and Jerusalem \  Part I  \ Parmenides in Chains


     In one way or another we now understand why Hegel was so afraid to break the "natural relationships of things" and why Kant, without any preliminary "critique," that is to say, not only without discussing the question but without even indicating the possibility of any questions or doubts whatsoever in this matter, submitted metaphysics to the judgment of the positive sciences that had justified themselves and to the synthetic a priori judgments on which these are based.

     "All the interest of my reason (the speculative as well as the practical) is combined in the following three questions: What can (kann) I know? What must (soll) I do? What may (darf) I hope?," writes Kant in one of the last chapters of his Critique of Pure Reason. To whom are these questions addressed? With this Kant is as little concerned as is Hegel. It seems absurd, no doubt, for him to admit that the very readiness to raise these questions binds men in advance and forever. When he studied the positive sciences he asked: What are the highest mountains on earth? What are the dimensions of the sun's diameter? What is the speed of sound or of light? etc. And he became accustomed to think that it is always proper to question, that someone exists who can be questioned, and that it is to him that he must put all questions — him whom he asked concerning the mountains, the sun, the light and the sound — for at his disposal are all the kann, soll and darf. If metaphysics does not go to seek answers at the same place and does not receive them from the same hands that up till now have distributed all the kann, soll and darf, it will never obtain truth. The old, pre-critical metaphysics went to seek its truths where it ought not to have gone, and its truths were not truths but Hirngespinst (whim) and Grille (caprice). But when, after the Critique, it went where Kant directed it, it returned with empty hands; all the kann, soll and darf had already been distributed and there was nothing left for it. Since before the Critique metaphysics supplied certain things and since after the Critique it no longer supplies anything, it would seem natural to ask if it is not the Critique itself which has dried up the metaphysical sources. To put it differently, is it perhaps not metaphysics that is impossible, as Kant concluded, but the critical metaphysics, the metaphysics that turns around backwards and looks to the future, that is afraid of everything and asks everyone, that dares nothing (metaphysics as science, in Kant's terminology) that is impossible?

     Who suggested to us that metaphysics wishes to be or must be a science? How did it happen that, in asking whether there is a God, whether the soul is immortal, whether free will exists, we declare ourselves prepared in advance to accept the answer that will be given us without even inquiring concerning the nature and essence of that which supplies us with the answer? We are told that God exists, therefore He exists; we are told that God does not exist, therefore He does not exist; and it remains for us only to submit. Metaphysics must be a parere (obedience), just like the positive sciences. Parmenides, Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, "constrained by the truth itself," do not choose and do not decide. Someone has chosen, someone has decided, someone has commanded, without them. And this is what is called the truth. People then consider, as Cleanthes and Seneca taught, that here it is necessary not only to obey but to accept with veneration and joy or, as Kant and Hegel taught, that it is necessary to prostrate oneself and pray and to call others to prayer. All the "reasons" — theoretical and practical, human and superhuman — have always told us, each in particular and all in general, the same thing throughout the millennial development of philosophical thought: one must obey, one must submit.

     The metaphysics which goes back to the source, covered by the sand of centuries, from which flows the jubere (commanding) terrifies and repels everyone. God Himself, let us recall, dared only once to manifest His arbitrary will; doubtless He could not do otherwise, as the atoms of Epicurus could not turn aside but once from their natural orbit. But since then both God and the atoms humbly obey. For our thought the jubere, the "by my will," is completely unbearable. Kant was horrified by the mere idea of a deus ex machina or an höheres Wesen interfering in human affairs. In Hegel's God, such as He was before the creation of the world, in Spinoza's causa sui, there is no trace of the free jubere. The jubere seems to us to be the arbitrary, the fantastic; what can be more horrible and more repugnant than this? Better Necessity that does not allow itself to be persuaded, that is concerned with nothing, that makes no distinction between Socrates and a mad dog. And if the theoretical reason cannot, when it is a question of metaphysical queries, guarantee for us the inviolability of Necessity — that is to say, give us universal, necessary, obligatory and constraining truths — we shall not, for all that, follow metaphysics to the sources from which the jubere flows. We wish at all Costs to obey and we shall create for ourselves, in the image of the theoretical reason, the practical reason, which will watch to see that the fire is never extinguished on the altar of the eternal parere.

     This is the meaning of the philosophical tasks that our "thought" has set for itself from antiquity to Kant and our own contemporaries. The sight of a man who is ready and capable of directing his own destiny at his own risk and peril and following his own will poisons the existence of our reason. God Himself seems to us a monster if He refuses to obey. Philosophy can accomplish its work only if all will forever forget the jubere, the "by my will," and erect altars to the parere. An Alexander the Great or a Pygmalion could overthrow all the constructions of Aristotle or Kant if they were not constrained to abdicate their will. And the miracle of the marriage at Cana is more dangerous still. Even if one succeeded in establishing historically that Jesus really transformed the water into wine, it would be necessary at all cost to find a way of suppressing this historical fact. Obviously one cannot charge the theoretical reason with such a task. It would never be willing to admit that what has been has not been. But we have the practical reason (Aristotle already knew it long before Kant) which realizes "in the spirit" what the theoretical reason does not dare to accomplish. The marriage of Cana would have been, as liege1 explains to us, a "violation of the spirit," of the spirit of men who — not "freely," even though they think so, but constrained by Necessity — have deified the parere. Hence one can and must overcome the miracle of Cana by the spirit. Everything "miraculous" must at all costs be driven out of life, just as the men who seek to save themselves from Necessity by breaking the natural relationships of things must be driven out of it. "Parmenides enchained and constrained," Parmenides transformed by Necessity into a stone endowed with consciousness: this is the ideal of the man who philosophizes as our "thought" represents him.

     But it is not given the petrified Parmenides to help man escape from the limited world. And the thought which turns backward will not lead us to the sources of being. Aristotle turned back-ward, Kant turned backward, all those who followed Kant and Aristotle turned backward, and they became eternal prisoners of Necessity. To tear oneself away from its power, it is necessary "to dare everything," to accept the great and final struggle, to go forward without asking and without foreseeing what awaits us. And only the readiness, born out of supreme anguish, to bind oneself in friendship with death (meletę thanatou) can fortify man in his mad and unequal struggle against Necessity. In the presence of death human "proofs," human self-evidences, melt away, vanish, and are transformed into illusions and phantoms. Epictetus with his threats, Aristotle with his truths that constrain, Kant and Hegel with their imperatives and their hypnotizing practical reason, are terrible only to those who cling desperately to pleasure, even if it be the pleasure that "contemplation" gives and that bears the noble name "contentment with oneself." The sting of death spares nothing; one must master it in order to direct it against Necessity itself. And when Necessity will be felled, the truths that rested on it and served it will also collapse. Beyond reason and knowledge, where constraint ends, the enchained Parmenides, having participated in the mystery of the being who is eternal and who always commands (tęs emęs boulęseôs), will regain his primordial freedom and speak not as a man "constrained by the truth" but as one "possessed of power." And this primordial tęs emęs boulęseôs (boundless free will), which no "knowledge" can contain, is the only source of metaphysical truth. Let the promise be realized: "Nothing will be impossible for you!"

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