Athens and Jerusalem \  Part I  \ Parmenides in Chains


     Kant is considered the destroyer of metaphysics, while Hegel is regarded as the philosopher who gave back to metaphysics the rights that Kant had torn away from it. In reality Hegel only completed Kant's work. [1] The conviction that faith is knowledge, the hostility to Holy Scripture carefully hidden under the appearance of respect, the denial of the very possibility of any other participation in truth than that which science offers — all these sufficiently testify to the goal that Hegel had set for himself. For him there is only one source of truth; he is "convinced" that all those who wished to find the truth have always and everywhere gone to the sources from which his own philosophy sprang. In his Logic he writes: "The quality of the concept consists in negating itself, in holding itself back and making itself passive in regard to what is, in order that the latter be not determined by the subject but be able to show itself as it is in itself." And in the Philosophy of Religion he declares: "In faithful prayer the individual forgets himself and becomes filled with his object."

     If this is so, it is obvious that "in philosophy religion receives its justification from the thinking consciousness... Thought is the absolute ruler before which the content must prove itself true. And of the very Christianity that he calls the absolute religion, he says in a tone that brooks no contradiction, "the true content of Christian faith is to be justified through philosophy." This means: being is situated entirely and without residue on the level of reasonable thought and everything that suggests — no matter how remotely — the possibility of another dimension must be energetically repressed as fantastic and non-existent. "Just as man must learn to recognize the sensible on the basis that it is there and that it is, just as man must accept the sun because it is there, so man must accept science, man must accept truth."

     Whatever Hegel may do, whatever his efforts to convince himself and others that freedom is for him more precious than anything else in the world may be, finally he comes back to the old way, recognized by and comprehensible (that is to say, reasonable) to all: to constraint. In the metaphysical realm where philosophy dwells, as in the empirical realm where the positive sciences live, that Necessity of which Aristotle and Epictetus have told us so much alone rules and governs. Whether one wishes it or not, one must recognize what is given by the senses, just as one cannot escape from the "truths" of the religion that Hegel calls Christianity. Yet Hegel himself has no need of Christianity because the science of logic grasps, without the help of Christianity, the unveiled truth as it is in itself and for itself as well as God's eternal essence before the creation of the world.

     I do not know if Hegel inadvertently betrayed himself by uniting in such a tangible way the "truth" of concrete, sensible reality with the religious truths in the general notion of constraining truth, or if he deliberately emphasized the indestructible bonds that exist between metaphysical and positive knowledge. I am inclined to believe that he did it deliberately just as, in speaking of the marriage at Cana and of the healing of the paralytics, he deliberately concluded with the Voltairean aller à la selle. But whether it was deliberate or not, it is clear in any case that for him neither metaphysics nor religion can draw their truths from sources other than those which teach us, using the formula of Spinoza, that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles — and this even though already in the Phenomenology of the Spirit he speaks with extreme arrogance and scorn of the methods of mathematics. This is why I have said that Hegel only completed Kant's work. It is known that for Kant metaphysics reduced itself to three fundamental problems — God, the immortality of the soul, and free will. When he posed the question "Is metaphysics possible?" he set out from the assumption that metaphysics is possible only if the answer to these three problems will be furnished us by the same authority that enlightens us when we ask if one can inscribe a rhombus in a circumference or if one can make what has been not to have been. Now, according to Kant, to the questions "Can one inscribe a rhombus in a circumference or make what has been not to have been?" we obtain answers that are completely precise and obligatory for all or, as he puts it, universal and necessary: one cannot inscribe a rhombus in a circumference or make what has been not to have been. But to the three metaphysical problems such answers cannot be obtained: it may be that God exists, as it may be that God does not exist; it may be that the soul is immortal, as it may be that it is mortal; it may be that free will exists, or it may be that it does not exist. All the "critique of pure reason" comes down basically to this. Indeed, if Kant had fully expressed his thought or, rather, if he had formulated his conclusions less cautiously, he would have said: God does not exist, the soul (which also does not exist) is mortal, free will is a myth.

     But, beside the theoretical reason, Kant also assumes a practical reason. And when we address the same questions to the practical reason the situation immediately changes: God exists, the soul is immortal, the will is free. Why and how Kant transferred to the practical reason the powers that he had so pitilessly wrested from the theoretical reason is unnecessary to recount; everyone knows it. What is important is that Hegel's metaphysics is basically not at all distinguished from Kant's practical reason. To put it differently, Kant's practical reason already contained, under an incompletely developed form, all of Hegel's metaphysics. This seems almost paradoxical, but it is so and it could not be otherwise, because both of them set out from the traditional conviction that there is only one source of truth and that the truth is that to which every man can be led by constraint.

     Almost every page of Hegel's writings reveals to us that his metaphysics was born of Kant's practical reason. Such is the meaning of his ontological proof of the existence of God: with Hegel as with Kant, it is not the theoretical but the practical reason which here "proves." Even more clearly does this come out from the following thought of Hegel: "When a man does evil, this evil is at the same time given as something which in itself is nothing, as something over which the spirit has power, so that the spirit can bring it about that the evil should not have occurred. The meaning of repentance and atonement consists in that the crime, by the fact that its perpetrator has been raised to the truth, is apprehended as something which in itself and for itself has been overcome, which of itself has no power. That what happened should so be made not to have happened cannot come about in a sensible way but rather in a spiritual way, inwardly."

     Hegel's entire metaphysics is thus constructed: where the theoretical reason stops, feeling its impotence and incapacity to do anything whatsoever, the practical reason comes to its aid and declares that it has a remedy for everything. Only the terms differ: instead of "practical reason" Hegel says "Geist." Obviously no force in the world can bring it about that what has once been should not have been, and the crimes that have been committed — even the most terrible, Cain's fratricide and Judas' betrayal - will remain committed for all eternity. They belong to the domain of pure theoretical reason, and by that very fact are subordinated to the power of the implacable Necessity which does not allow itself to be persuaded. But it is not at all necessary that what has once been should not have been in the sensible and finite world, just as there is no need for the marriage at Cana or the resurrection of Lazarus. All this breaks the natural relationships and is consequently a "violation of the spirit." The practical reason has found something much better: "inwardly," "spiritually," through repentance, it will make what has been not to have been.

     Here, as frequently happens in reading Hegel's works, one asks himself if it is really he who is saying what he thinks, or if it is the Necessity that is speaking through its intermediary, after having hypnotized him and changed him into a stone endowed with consciousness. It may even be assumed that Cain and Judas, if they had not known repentance, would have forgotten what they had done and their crimes would have been drowned in Lethe. But repentance is repentance precisely because it cannot come to terms with what has happened. This is the origin of the legend of the Wandering Jew. And if you do not like legends, I recall to you the testimony of Pushkin:

    The long scroll of my memories unrolls before me;
    And in reading my life with disgust,
    I tremble and curse.
    I moan bitterly and bitterly weep,
    But I cannot blot out these overwhelming lines.
Pushkin did not kill a brother or betray a divine master, but he knows that no practical reason, no truth — not even that which, according to Hegel, existed before the creation of the world-can give him that for which his soul longs. It is to be assumed that Pushkin judged otherwise than did Hegel of the marriage at Cana and of the resurrection of Lazarus; it did not seem to him that the stories of Holy Scripture must be submitted to the verification of "our thought, which is the sole judge" and that the breaking of the natural relationships between phenomena was a violation of the spirit.

     For Hegel as for Kant, faith, or what he calls "faith," is under the eternal tutelage of reason. "Faith, however, rests upon the testimony of the spirit — not upon miracles but upon the absolute truth, upon the eternal idea, and thus upon a true content. And from this point of view miracles present only a paltry interest." I think it is again necessary to correct the last words of the sentence quoted and to say not that "miracles present only a paltry interest" but that "miracles present no interest at all," as the Stoics said: all that is not in our power is "indifferent." Or again — and here Hegel's true "interest" or, rather, the basic postulate of his thought would appear — it is necessary to say that all miracles, those of which the Bible testifies and those that are recounted in the Thousand and One Nights, are only worthless trash, rejected by the theoretical reason and completely unacceptable to the practical reason. Or, as Kant said: the deus ex machina is the most absurd of all suppositions, the idea of a supreme being involved in the affairs of men means the end of all philosophy. Kant's thought as well as Hegel's rests entirely on this principle. Even Leibniz's innocent "pre-established harmony" was for them an object of horror and disgust, as idols were for the biblical prophets. The "pre-established harmony" is again nothing but the deus ex machina whose acceptance must sooner or later make man leave the rut of normal thought. Kant and Hegel, to be sure, were unfair to Leibniz. Leibniz never tried to make anyone come out of the norm or the rut. If he admitted a pre-established harmony, it was only for a single time, as did Seneca, for example, with his semper paret, semel jussit (He always obeys but has commanded only once). For Leibniz also, the thought based on the jubere seemed monstrous and barbarous. Consensu sapientium, the deus ex machina and the supreme being have always been driven by the philosophers outside the limits of real being into the region of the eternally fantastic.

     But we would ask once again: by what right is the deus ex machina considered an absurd supposition and the supreme being declared the enemy of philosophical researches? When the chemist, the physicist or the geologist turn away from the deus ex machina or from the supreme being, they have their reasons for this. But a philosopher, and especially a philosopher who has undertaken the critique of pure reason — why does he not see that the deus ex machina has quite as much right to existence as any synthetic judgment whatsoever? And that in any case one cannot a priori qualify him as an absurd supposition? And yet, it is enough to grant him certain rights, be they even the most minimal, for the entire "critique" to fall to pieces. Then it would appear that the point on which stands or falls the philosophy of Kant and of all those who followed him depended on a shadow, on an idea having no relationship with reality. Or to put it better: the idea that the deus ex machina (höheres Wesen) is the most absurd of all possible suppositions was suggested to Kant and to those who followed him by that very Necessity which does not allow itself to be persuaded and has the capacity to change into stones all those who look at it. And its power of suggestion was such that Kant could never — either in reality or in dream, either alone or in the presence of others — tear himself away from the power of this idea. All reality found itself passed somehow into a flattening mill and forcibly introduced into that two-dimensional thought, which in fact does not "admit" (that is to say, refuses to give any place to) either the deus ex machina or the höheres Wesen and therefore considers as an absurdity everything that bears the stamp of the unforeseen, of freedom, of originality, everything that seeks and desires not passive being but the creative action that is not bound or determined by anything.

     It was on this level, too, that there was installed Hegel's "spirit" which, notwithstanding its overly celebrated freedom, was also - probably even before the creation of the world - condemned to turn in the circle "wherein the first is also the last and the last also the first." For Hegel, as for Kant and for Fichte and Schelling (especially the Schelling of the first period), the idea of knowledge and the idea of truth were indissolubly bound to the idea of mechanism. In Fichte and Schelling we even find such expressions as "the mechanism of the human spirit." In The Critique of Judgment Kant insists on the proposition that it is absolutely impossible to prove that organisms could not be produced by purely mechanical and natural means. And in The Critique of Pure Reason we read: "If we could explore to the bottom all the phenomena of human choice, there would not be any human action that we could not certainly predict and know as necessary from its anterior conditions."

     I ask again (and one cannot stop asking this question, even though its constant repetition will irritate and fatigue both the author and his readers): Whence did the great German philosophers derive this attachment to "mechanism," as if they had already in infancy taken a Hannibal-like vow not to stop before overthrowing the detestable deus ex machina? Whence, more generally, springs the conviction in all the philosophy of all the centuries that it is in mechanism, in Selbstbewegung, in movement in a circle, that we must seek the final mystery of creation? The German idealists always loved to speak of freedom and endlessly glorified freedom. But what freedom can there be where everything is "natural," where mechanism rules? And was not Plato when he spoke to us of his prisoners in the cave, or Luther with his de servo arbitrio, or Spinoza who openly admitted that everything that he wrote was written not because he freely wished it but under the influence of an external constraint, closer to the truth? Such disclosures (as well as the terror that flows from them — "the fear of God"), are signs of at least the presentiment of awakening and deliverance (here on earth men probably do not know Plotinus' "true awakening") or of a longing for freedom, and show us that we are dealing not with stones endowed with consciousness but with living men.

[1] See Richard Kröner's outstanding book, From Kant to Hegel, the best of all that have been written on the history of German Idealism.

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