Postmodernism, Part 17: Hegel – Freedom is Slavery

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks (with support from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  He was a Counter-Enlightenment totalitarian collectivist, who damned reason and civilization, sacrificed the individual to the state, called for intolerant state religion, despised political and economic liberalism, and embraced dictatorship.  His ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

Napoleon gave Germany an epic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Napoleon gained power and trounced Germany.  He ended the Holy Roman Empire, occupied German territories, and imposed foreign values on them.  Germans blamed the Enlightenment for invading the dark forests of deeply rooted German traditions.

German Counter-Enlightenment minds gave Rousseau a German spin.  Kant espoused a sort of feudalistic militarism, where Nature uses human warfare for human progress.  Johann Herder (Kant’s student) disagreed, arguing for multiculturalism, moral relativism, German (not universal) progress, and nationalism.  Johann Fichte (Kant’s student) also disagreed, arguing for Ego (German subjective reality), public education as totalitarian collectivist indoctrination, and German (collective) freedom.

Hegel: Freedom is Slavery

Hegel was the fellow who reinvented reason.  He and Kant had split over how to defend God.  Kant used logic to kill objective reality.  Hegel objected because this denied universal truth.  He wanted it back.  So, Hegel used his dialectic to reinvent reason.  Reason was the universe acting through individuals, with contradictions clashing in a process of cultural evolution.

Hegel decided to give Rousseau the dialectic treatment plus a healthy dose of German idealism.  He was a Rousseau fanboy, but the French Revolution had proved to be weak beer.  To change the world, Rousseau’s collectivist totalitarianism needed a German shot in the arm.

hegelHegel

Hegel (like Rousseau) argued for state religion – in a literal sense.  He claimed that history was progress towards divine perfection (the Absolute Idea).  “God governs the world,” he taught, “the carrying out of his plan is the History of The World”.  The State “is the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth”, he said, “One must worship the state as a terrestrial divinity”.

Hegel (going beyond Rousseau) sacrificed the individual on the altar of his state religion.  “If the state claims life, the individual must surrender it,” he parroted Rousseau. Individuals “are thus sacrificed”, he wrote, “under the category of means to an ulterior end”.

Hegel reinvented freedom (echoing Fichte).  True freedom is the obedience of the law. “Law is the objectivity of Spirit; volition in its true form, ” Hegel taught, “for it obeys itself – it is independent and so free”.  (In other words, freedom is God’s.  God’s laws are the nation’s laws.  Individuals have a duty to God and country, which are one and the same.)

Hegel (like Rousseau) endorsed dictatorship (of “world-historical individuals” – like Napoleon).  The dictator “is devoted to One Aim”, he wrote, and “may treat other great, even sacred interests, inconsiderately; conduct which is indeed obnoxious to moral reprehension.”  (The dictator is above morality.)  “But so mighty a form must trample down many an innocent flower”, he said.  (The dictator is above morality and will slaughter innocents to realize God’s plan.)

Hegel (like Fichte) divined that history was culminating in the German people.  The Spirit had developed in three phases: the Orientals, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Germans.  “The German world knows that All are free”, he wrote, “The German spirit is the spirit of the new world.  Its aim is the realization of absolute Truth as the unlimited self determination of freedom”.

Two important takeaways from Hegel are: his dialectic and totalitarian ethnic nationalism.  Both components would be taken up by the Collective Right and the Collective Left.

Commentary

Hegel was profoundly influential.  His ideas (seemingly bizarre, unhinged, even lunatic) would shake the world, killing tens of millions.

Importantly, from a subjectivist philosophical point of view, there is nothing inherently wrong with holocaust and genocide.

Next

Romanticism and industrialization birth Socialism. Next: Part 18, Antichrist.

Postmodernism 101, Part 4: Staring into the Abyss

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the book, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.

Previous posts include:

Erstwhile
immanuel-kantImmanuel Kant

In Marxist tradition, postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern philosophy and its progeny.  The Enlightenment’s modern philosophy overthrew the Medieval philosophy of faith.  Modernism supposed individuals could use perception and reason (not faith) to know reality.  Its progeny were individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.

The German Counter-Enlightenment reacted to defend faith and community.  Immanuel Kant attacked reason with logic’s razor, slicing objectivity away.  Reason was left half-blind, unable to know reality.  Hegel thought Kant’s defense weak, and launched a counter-revolution.  Hegel conjured a dialectic that played by its own rules, a game changer that slapped logic away and reinvented reason.

Crisis

The Enlightenment brought a crisis of faith and a crisis of meaning.  Mankind stared into an abyss, half-blind.  Some despaired and plunged into darkness.  Some held to belief.  Some leapt into the unknown.  Another summoned lightning in the darkness.

Despair

arthur-schopenhauerArthur Schopenhauer

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer despaired.  Hegel was a coward, he thought, for attempting to return to religion.  Hegel’s metaphysics were not reality.

Schopenhauer agreed with Kant that our minds understand reality from perceptions and concepts.  “All perception is intellectual,” he wrote, “The world is my representation [of it].”

Our only reality is our will, Schopenhauer wrote.  Our actions define our will, he argued.  Our actions reveal our motivations.  This is all we can know of reality, he said.

To search for more is pointless, Schopenhauer argued, because our will cannot comprehend more.  If we could, he claimed, we would find only chaos, cruelty, and horror.  For Schopenhauer, it would be better that man and the world had never existed.  “Nothing else can be stated as the aim of existence except the knowledge that it would be better for us not to exist,” he despaired.

Belief

friedrich-schleiermachrFriedrich Schleiermachr

German philosopher and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher held to belief.  Kant was correct, he agreed, that reason cannot know reality.  We believe what reason tells us.  We can believe what faith tells us.

Reason is based on belief, said Schleiermacher.  We perceive external objects.  We cannot know the existence of them, independent of our minds.  The external world is an object of belief.

Faith is based on belief, he argued.  We can look inward, into our hearts.  In our deepest religious feelings, we can sense the divine.  Our faith is also an object of belief.

Faith requires that we limit reason, Schleiermacher concluded,  “No God without a world, and no world without God”.

Leap into the Unknown

soren-kierkagaardSoren Kierkegaard

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard pushed us to make a leap of faith.  He agreed with Kant that knowledge of reality was impossible.  Nevertheless, the world forces choices upon us.  Our destinies are at sake.  We must act.

We make life’s choices in ignorance, Kierkegaard contended.  “Life can only be understood backwards,” he said, “but it must be lived forwards.”

We must choose, Kierkegaard said, “I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that.  My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not – you will regret both.”

We must make a leap of faith, Kierkegaard concluded.  God cannot be justified rationally.  God is irrational and unknowable, he said.  Like Abraham, he said, we must relinquish our understanding and thinking, and keep our soul fixed upon the unknowable.  We must “crucify reason” and make a leap of faith into the unknowable.

Lightning in the Darkness

friedrich-nietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche fought to light a way in the falling dark.  Christianity’s candle was dimming, its moral compass failing.  The specter of Schopenhauer’s despair followed him.  Nietzsche summoned lightning to light the way.

Nietzsche saw the German battle against the Enlightenment as one of hatred between brothers who “wronged each other as only brothers wrong each other”.  The Enlightenment was an attack on the philosophical German spirit by the English mechanistic mind.

Nietzsche agreed with the “catastrophic spider” Kant, that reason was woeful.  Reason relied on our “weakest and most fallible organ”, he said, our consciousness.  Reason demeaned us “unfortunate creatures”, reducing us to “thinking, inferring, reckoning, coordinating cause and effect”.

Christianity could guide us no longer.  “God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!”, Nietzsche lamented,  “How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers?”  Without religion’s moral compass, how could we guide ourselves?  “Whither do we move?  Away from all suns?  Do we not dash on unceasingly?  Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions?  Is there still an above and below?”  Nietzsche asked.

Nietzsche dispelled the specter of Schopenhauer’s despair.  His pessimism was born of religious “world-renouncing morality”.  Fear and pessimism must not drive us to religion, he argued.

Nietzsche proposed a way forward: Will to Power – the exercise of power to achieve individual potential.  “A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength,” Nietzsche said, “Life itself is Will to Power.”  Man must become the Superman, he argued, “the lightening out of the dark cloud”.  We should not be herded by “good and just” herdsmen.  What good are happiness, reason, virtue, justice, or pity?  We must live dangerously and embrace conflict to achieve our full potential.

Nietzsche’s short life ended in madness, his works incomplete.  Others took up his works and twisted them to terrible ends.

Commentary

The German Counter-Enlightenment had now split roughly into two camps:  one Hegelian, the other irrationalist.  Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche represent German philosophy’s irrationalist camp:

  • Reality.  Reason cannot know reality.
    • The theists (Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard) found truth in the rational and the irrational.
    • The atheists (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) found no truth (only phenomena and will).
  • Human Nature.
    • Schleiermacher endorsed conscious choice of good and evil (subject to human nature).
    • Kierkegaard endorsed personal freedom to choose salvation (subject to original sin).
    • The atheists (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche) perceived will.
  • Values.
    • Kierkegaard valued individual freedom, opposed Hegelian collectivism, and valued faith in Christ.
    • Schleiermacher valued the higher good, including the individual and their duty to God and community (the collective).
    • Schopenhauer was a nihilist who thought the search for universal truths to be absurd (futile, pointless).  He saw no point in life.
    • Nietzsche was a moral skeptic who denied universal truths.  He valued achievement of individual potential in a hierarchy (at all costs).  He opposed mass movements (“the herd”, “the rabble”).

The Twentieth century awaited –  twisted ideologies and a maelstrom of chaos, war, revolution, carnage, and monstrous horror.

Next

Postmodernism’s foundation is laid.  Next: Part 5, Heidegger Knows Nothing.

Postmodernism 101, Part 3: Hegel’s Dialectic

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the book, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.

Previous posts include:

Recap

Reason, truth, and knowledge are meaningless, argue the postmodernists, they are only political oppression.  Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism and its progeny – truth, reason, knowledge, science, individualism, free markets, and liberal democracy.

Enlightenment’s modern philosophy overthrew the Medieval philosophy of faith.  It replaced faith with reason.  It supposed individuals could use perception and reason to know reality.  Modernism produced individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.

The German Counter-Enlightenment reacted against Enlightenment’s threats to replace religion and community with a godless, soulless, amoral machine.  Immanuel Kant struck a blow in defense of religion.  He took logic’s razor to cut away objectivity, leaving only subjective reality.  Reason staggered on, half-blind.

Reunited
hegelGeorg W. F. Hegel

German philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel, like Kant, was a defender of the faith.  Hegel marked an even further break from Enlightenment thinking.  His work had profound, lasting effects on the world.

Hegel thought Kant’s defense of religion to be intolerable.  Kant separated man (the subject) from reality (the object).  In doing so, Kant denied universal truths.  This seemed no defense of religion, at all.

Hegel sought to restore universal truths (to defend religion) with a different strategy.  He would reunite man and reality by reuniting the subject with the object.

Reason Redefined

Hegel aimed to reunite man with reality by changing the perspective and redefining terms.  Enlightenment philosophy supposed that the subject (man) perceived the object (reality).  We were cut off from objective reality and universal truths.  We constructed subjective reality in our minds.

Hegel changed that perspective.  He redefined the “subject”.  The subject is not the individual, but the whole universe.  The individual is only a part.  Hegel agreed with Kant that reality comes from us.  But, he broke with Kant, arguing that we can know all of reality (universal truths) because it comes from us.

Hegel redefined reason.  Reason creates reality.  So, reason is a creative function, not a cognitive one.

Dialectic

Hegel broke western logical traditions.  Enlightenment reason argued in terms of traditional Aristotelian logic.  This logic questioned contradictions in Christian dogma:

  • How can God create something from nothing?
  • How can God be both one and three (the Trinity)?
  • How can a loving God create a world that contains evil?

Reason contains contradictions, Hegel answered, and reason must give way for them.  Logical contradictions are a problem for reason, he argued, only if we make them one.  The answer is to redefine reason, Hegel said.

  • The universe can have a beginning and be eternal.
  • God can be both one and three.
  • Loving God can create evil.

Hegel’s dialectical reasoning dispensed with individualism.  Reason’s contradictions create tensions and clash in a process of evolution, he said. Deeper universal forces act through and upon individuals, who are shaped by evolving cultures.  Universal reason realizes itself, without regard to individuals, Hegel wrote.

Hegel’s work was a major assault on Enlightenment and modern philosophy:

  • Reality.  Reality is entirely subjective.  We create reality.  Reality and reason contain contradictions.
  • Human Nature.  We have no autonomy or free will.  Culture and universal forces act through us.
  • Values. We value the collective (not the individual).  Truth is relative and constantly evolving.

Hegel’s themes of contradiction, conflict, collectivism, and relativism profoundly affected history.

Commentary

Hegel’s Counter-Enlightenment seems much a reactionary counter-revolution.  He seems to restore the Medieval philosophy of faith, in part.  He threw down individualism from its lofty perch, and restored unseen God to his throne.  Individuals were but serfs or puppets, dancing for God and other invisible forces.

Hegel’s vision differed from Medieval philosophy in other ways.  Medieval faith supposed a relatively stable divine order that changed slowly.  Hegel’s faith proposed something chaotic – ever changing, evolution, revolution.  He left God’s throne on shifting sands, amidst a whirling cyclone.

Next

German Counter-Enlightenment opens a new front: irrationalism.  Next: Part 4, Staring into the Abyss.