Sources of Creative Power – Fall Semester
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We made an attempt in the last session, and we did it for two full hours, to try out how our plan would work of taking ourselves as the ones who give first testimony to indications of our situation, of the situation of modern man in the world. I was very pleased with the discussion I found in the last two hours and I think we got our finger on a few points that hurt, especially where we are the ones that can give best testimony to certain pecularities of our situation and I think it has made us already a little bit more sure that there are really very distinguishing qualities contained in our specific modern situation in the world, distinguishing them from other situations of man in the world in different cultures and different historical situations and moments. It is, of course, hard in a class that was expected to be fifteen people to have about 60 and to go on in a business like that with such a big class so there will be shortcomings for everybody of you in this type of discussion. Very often it will be necessary to cut certain things short in order to arrive at certain common results. We will not have so much free range as I hoped we would have had and could have had in a smaller class. For the moment we will drop this line of inquiry and take it up perhaps in the second hour today if we come to it.
We start today with the lecture though we usually want the lecture in the second hour but we had two hours
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of this line of research last time so we start today with the new line — that is the calling in for testimony people who already very early judged the coming situation of modern man, but it is previously only an attempt to give an introduction into the specific spiritual situation of our time. By spiritual I do not mean anything transcendent or highfaluting here. I merely mean to have a look at our spiritual arsenal, to see not how the situation of our creative capabilities is, which we want to see later and what they are, but how the situation is among those fields and in those fields of human endeavor that those capabilities have created up to now in order to see what is the relation of science, philosophy, art, personal life, politics today in our situation, what is our arsenal. That does not mean that we check already directly the increased power of man in our time. We check indirectly, namely, only tools, only results, only the situation of results as far as they are given by the different fields of human endeavor up to today.
Let me first tell a story. Around 500 B.C., a Persian king, as we are told, made a group of Greeks in a minor war his prisoners. He ordered those prisoners to come before him and said to them, ›I am ready to give you your freedom. I will do more: I give you in my vast empire, a very beautiful and fruitful country, all of your own. You will be there completely independent. You can
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build your own state at your free will. I will not molest you. You can all become kings in this kingdom if you want. There is only one condition: you have to accept the custom of eating your parents when they have died.‹ The Greeks went into a panic and said ›kill us, make us slaves, do everything you want with us. We will never accept such a custom.‹ So the Persian king said, ›You wait,‹ and he called in another group of men, not prisoners but representatives of an Asiatic people, very cultivated who were his subjects and said to the Greeks, ›You be quiet and listen.‹ And he said to those men, ›I am ready to free you, to give you back your country in freedom for your own rule. I will even not exact tribute from you. You can have large sums of money from me to build up your country. There is only one condition attached to it. The condition is that you cremate your parents when they have died.‹ And the people said, ›Do everything with us, destroy us, kill us, make us slaves — we would never burn our dear parents when they have died.‹ And the Persian king said to the Greeks, ›You must understand it is the custom of this people to eat their parents when they have died as it is your custom to cremate your parents when they have died.‹
The kings of Persia of this time were great conquerors. They ruled a vast empire of very different peoples. They were, as a matter of fact, the first to claim absolute imperialism as a principle because the title of the king
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of Persia was ›The King of Persia and of all non-Persian Countries.‹ The claim for global rule in a classical formula. We have in the meantime seen a similar claim, and it was Hitler’s claim, which we could formulate, saying ›The leader of all Aryan peoples and the ruler of all nonAryan peoples.‹ And we have to recognize today another claim which Mr. Malenkov in place of Mr. Stalin could formulate and, in fact, makes: ›The leader of all socialist countries and all countries not yet socialist.‹
The age of conquest has come to an end and this Persian king was very early in a peculiar situation which interests us. There he had those Greek prisoners, highly cultivated men, men belonging to communities who would give the West the mainstay of its cultural development, one of the pillars of Western civilization, and yet he was able to show to them that they might be prejudiced and that he was not, that compared to him they were narrowminded, that he was such a broad-minded personality, and he showed it to the others, too. But what was his position? He was absolutely skeptical. He could not tell them anything. He just wanted to show both groups how relative our judgments are. He wanted to rule out one judgment or prejudice by the other judgment or prejudice. He himself felt that he was above all prejudices: that means — to consider him critically — he was in a stage of very highly sophisticated and cultural and intellectual sterility.
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The first absolute relativist known to us. Not a skeptic. A skeptic is a man who is not ready to accept prejudices easily before he has found on what previous judgment or reason the prejudice uttered here might be based, reserving for himself the right to find out what this previous judgment is, to look into the reason of this judgment, and then either re-affirm it and assert it or reject it and replace it by another judgment. This is productive and creative skepticism. Absolute skepticism does not exist because the skeptic has an attitude of which he thinks it might make him arrive at better judgments. He is still a faithful man. His faith is the faith in the capability of free man to come to judgments mutually agreed upon and to try those judgments out in practice, never believing them again, never being cocksure, doing everything to try to carry this judgment out, this judgment so arrived at freely; but knowing that no ultimate judgment of man is possible, and here he has to listen again to the next man who comes along and wants to reason out this judgment he is acting according to now and being ready to do so. This is a great and fundamental part of the free, philosophical attitude of free men — skepticism. It can only be practiced in connection with a basic faith which has nothing to do with religious faith, but basic trust. The trust that although human reason is by no means perfect, it is our only means to change situations reasonably in community with other
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reasonable human beings, to take our risk together and then try to mend and to improve as long as we live.
The Persian king was wrong when he thought himself to be a skeptic. He was a relativist he was a man who had an inherent nihilism — namely, the opinion that whatever men in their different societies are doing is worthless because it is ruled out by what other human beings in other societies are doing. A very modern type this Persian king.
We have come to a state of relativism which has an underlying mood of nihilism though we call it very often positivism and think ourselves so very positive. We make scientific and pseudo-scientific research into different sets of values. We would say, ›Those Greeks, of course, had another set of values than those people.‹ Sets of values are things to be considered in themselves. We can compare sets of values; we can draw up categories for them and by doing so we make values valueless. We devaluate permanently; we get wiser and wiser, so to speak, as to knowing how many different sets of values there are and we draw from it the foolish conclusion, becoming perfect fools, that we have no right to evaluate. We lost our capability of evaluating — namely, the very thing by which all those values have been brought about. We get relativistic and say, ›Well, here is another set of values. Well you have another opinion. Stick to your opinion. You have
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another set of values.‹ What does it mean? It means that we do not think that we have any yardstick we could use to come to an agreement or to certain common opinions. We are so generous leaving to every individual his own opinions and reserving for ourselves our own opinions, our own set of values. And we do not realize that by that we stop the procedure of making up our minds and that what we consider then in our set of values as well as the others are no longer opinions but just notions — and there is a big difference between a notion and an opinion. We drive ourselves mutually into situations acting only by prejudices — namely, by very little prejudices instead of a very big one.
Having rejected the general prejudice, which I called, let’s say, naturalistic thinking, and the other general prejudice, which is super-naturalistic thinking, we have earned for that the harvest an infinite set of little prejudices which we are not able to check any more because we do not develop definite opinions and we do not know how to develop definite opinions. That makes us such easy going people in mental matters, but to take mental matters easy — that is just the wrong thing to do. I am all for taking bodily and physical matters as easy as possible and I feel that everybody of us should be entitled to try to have an easy living, but if anyone tries to have an easy life, he will soon see what will become of him. He
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will rot away into nothingness, into insignificance, into meaninglessness, into being unable to ever have a real opinion — let alone to take the risk to fight for one, to stand up for one’s opinions till the better guy comes along who has the better touch as to reasons. This easy relativistic situation provides for laziness of the mind.
Here we touch already one of the phenomena we formerly found here as to our situation. Compared with the Persian king we are really monsters of knowledge. We have, being the inheritors of a whole age since then through 2,000 years of development and more of conquest, we have arrived at a point where our knowledge has become so vast that we don’t even know the compartments of this treasure house any more, let alone what’s in it — and it is all plunder. We have all conquered it. We dispose of this tremendous richness in the manner of baggers: namely, taking this out or that out and ornamenting ourselves with it and not knowing what to copy — today this fashion, tomorrow the other fashion —, not knowing how to orient ourselves within that vast treasure house. The development of our mental tools and the results of them has become so tremendous that we lose track of the whole set of our powers and possibilities completely.
As to art (where we have the most visible development) we have a situation unequaled in history. We have arrived at an understanding of the most different styles of art in
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different countries and people; we have developed modern artists of a specific style and capability of creation, like Picasso, who are able to experience the experience of the most distant people and human beings by the means of the experience of their style of expression. To get hold of that style of expression, to transform it for modern purposes and to express our own experience in it. That means to enlarge the possibility of artistic expression of our experiences to a degree never dreamt of before. The age is gone where Voltaire, one of the greatest free spirits of the 18th Century and men of the enlightenment, was still so narrow — or was he narrow? — that he hated Gothic architecture to such a degree that he wanted all Gothic churches in Paris razed. To him only the Rococo style, the style of the beginning enlightenment of man spoke. All others were mute to him. But there was a positive thing too — the positive thing was that at that time the opinion of human beings that had made up their minds to get rid of these mirages (?) was so strong that they didn’t even shrink back from hating their art. We have this vast and unequaled possibility Picasso represents, but we have also that abysmal weakness that consists in the fact that we have become just collectors of the most different styles and works of art in art without experiencing them — just for the sake of more and more plunder, becoming by it even more unable to develop our own taste. If I look at most
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of those aestheticians of today, they will all be ready to show you what specific value, what set of values in this style of the Chinese of this century was, and there was, but they cannot evaluate any more. If you would ask them the questions ›And what do you rate highest?‹ ›What is your creative taste?‹ ›What are the things that really nourish your mind most?‹ ›What do you love among that all?‹ Then we will see they don’t love. They just like or dislike things of art in different degrees. They have become so tolerant and so sophisticated intellectually and they sit so far above things and it seems to be such a nice feeling, an enjoyment, to sit so far above things of art that nothing really touches them anymore, that nothing is there in all this vast treasure house that you take to your heart and that you hold to your mind.
There is, on the one side, the artist who shows us that this situation in art is one of the greatest chances artistic man had in all time — and we all are, I hope, to a certain degree artistic men, or want to become so. On the other hand, we have a mass of people who only use that and even try to be art teachers in order to ruin our capabilities for developing our own definite personal taste — and taste is a very deep thing. Taste concerns the things we love and the things we love are the only things we can work with. To come into the role of an aesthetic observer
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means to have become entirely sterile; complete sterility is, as to art, the danger of our situation. The other side is the chance. This applies — I took art out previously only because here we can see it most, as the concrete, plastic(?) — to the whole situation of the development of our so-called creative endeavors. We are everywhere threatened by complete sterility and we have everywhere before us in every field the greatest chance ever given. This would be considered by the early Greeks — the early Greeks, I mean the pre-Platonic Greeks — a tragic situation. A tragic situation in its original sense means that the irony of the Gods is involved. To their favored ones they give a gift or a chance. This gift will either ruin them completely or it will give them real success. It depends on the man who got that gift what he can make with it. He runs the risk to ruin himself by this very gift — and he has the chance to become himself according to the Greeks — become who you are — by this very gift.
Our situation as to our mental — or better, spiritual possibilities is exactly such a situation. It depends entirely on us — favorites of the Gods in a certain historical moment; and the elder Greeks would consider us to be — what we make of that gift which is this chaotic situation into which we have come. First to find lines in order to judge this situation. We are operating here to find the same indications in all our other fields of en-
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deavor. That we will do and pursue this aim through the whole course piece by piece. Now we ask: ›How did the chance come about — the chance involved in this situation?‹ And then we will have to see that this chance is not only there in the arts: it is also there in science, in philosophy, and in what I call erotics by which I mean personal human relations, relations between persons, and in politics. In all those fields the danger is there and the chance is there. How did the chance come about?
Let’s see how art developed this specific chance it has today, what artists could do in order to develop it and what was needed in order to give them that chance. Then we find that up to the 19th Century all art, not only pictorial art but all arts, have been bound to some nonartistic element. This element was either the church or an aristocracy, a ruling layer of society, but those are all mere social indications because they wouldn’t have bound themselves to it or rather produced the great art if they hadn’t believed in something non-artistic, so they also freely bound themselves. And this is metaphysical belief — either in mythical form where the artist is the servant of the myth or in metaphysical religious form as it is with the great religions of the West. The artist bound himself to a servant of God and could say — at least could have an answer which modern painters have not: namely, a real philosophical answer. When Medieval painters were
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asked: ›Why do you paint at all?‹ — a very frequent question today to the painter — they answered straightly, ›For the higher glory of God.‹ This is an answer. We have one modern painter who also was able to give an answer. Most painters say, ›Leave me alone,‹ — they don’t know, I mean good painters, how could they. Some say, ›Well one has to paint. One falls into painting the way one falls into water and has to swim. That is the way one has to paint.‹ A very nice answer. Picasso gave the best answer, a cynical answer, entirely non-religious, entirely non-metaphysical and entirely negative. He said, »In order to get rid of my visions.«1 This is also a philosophic answer.
So up to the 19th Century the artists were all bound to certain non-artistic purposes or bound themselves to them. From then on they became, so to speak, free, but free with the irony again, namely, first negatively free, free like a leaf in the wind, free without any purpose or intention because now it turned out that the fact that they were bound to certain non-artistic purposes also made their position in society, in all those societies. They were recognized as artists because they were recognized also as servants of non-artistic purposes which the society was interested in. Their beholders were not entitled to say before a Madonna, »I don’t like it,« because that would have meant, »I don’t like the Madonna, too.« The modern
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artist is exposed to this absolute judgment. His work of art from the beginning is judged only as a work of art and as nothing else. He has no protection whatsoever; he is absolutely without protection; he is exposed — not only to criticism, but he is exposed also to every whim of the society that might be in its majority of the opinion that art is something no real rational human being needs at all, something we could do without — and this opinion, of course, is very strong in modern societies. Nevertheless, on the spiritual side he has been really freed. Now where he had to prove his point only by art and by nothing but art, he could concentrate on artistic expression to such a degree that art, for the first time, really came into its own and all those possibilities that Picasso used and others used — Faulkner used them, Kafka used them, every great artist of our time used as many possibilities of that kind as he could — this possibility was suddenly given to them by the necessity to prove the worth of a work of art mainly be artistic means. That applies only to the real artists of our time because we still have a situation — I am here merely illustrating essential situations of our time. We all know that if painters send pictures to a prize-winning jury they might find that the prize will be given to a picture where a child that has polio tries to crawl with his last breath to an old house where it formerly had lived2 and for that entirely non-artistic reason this man who can
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paint, who is a mere illustrator and a sentimental one will win a prize over all modern artists, even including Matisse.
This still happens but we are not talking about this underlying dark reality of our art situation but about what is really in it as a chance. So they got their possibilities by being forced to find out what art can do all by itself without any support of non-artistic moods or forces or nonartistic so-called higher powers: that means, philosophically, they were forced to become entirely non-prejudiced. They looked at the things to do and to make in art as if they looked for the first time at the world. That makes the freshness of the modern style when it popped out of Cezanne and from then on in every great master of our time, this absolute freshness of a new look at the world. It is in all other fields approximately the same.
Let’s consider philosophy. In philosophy we had a development where in the Greek time, let’s say of Plato and Aristotle when Western philosophy as a field in itself was founded, we had the development what we call today purely metaphysical, moving on general assumptions, but we were bound from the beginning and we can see that already in the Platonic dialogues even in secular philosophy — and Plato is a secular philosopher as philosophers have to be. Philosophers do not have to regard other worlds but the world they might possibly be able to know, not other worlds
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— but this basic and general assumption he made — namely, that ideas rule the world, that behind everything is an idea, the theory of ideas, and therefore, the philosophical attitude of man being the theoretical attitude — namely, the attitude of finding out about those ideas — led him straight to a parallel with religion. It is not an accident but one of the greatest symptoms of Western development that the Christian church in the Middle Ages could start to use Aristotle and Plato perfectly for the development of theological religious thinking in the West because Plato had already compared those — his — ideas with the otherworldly, higher divine powers which really rule us. That means philosophy was dependent on a non-philosophic element as art was. More, it was even dependent on two non-philosophical elements because the development of theology in Western culture, Christian theology especially in the Middle Ages, has a funny significance.
We think today mostly that the development of modern science suddenly sprang up in the Renaissance, started there because we broke entirely with the Middle Ages. We disregard completely the fact that the founders of the modern scientific method, those who first applied straight scientific mathematical and theoretical thinking to matters of physical significance were monks. Roger Bacon was the first who discovered that and all those who then developed the
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scientific method, like Descartes, Leibniz, were people who had been trained theologically, that had learned their methods of thinking in theology and nowhere else and in a theology that was bound up with philosophy. Via this fact, Western philosophy from Plato on was bound to another non-philosophical element: namely, science — and developed this dependence very early. That was a very fruitful event, historically speaking, because we would never have established the pure scientific method which we now approach if philosophical thinking and theological thinking had not helped us. But it meant also for philosophy becoming more and more impure — finally philosophy, so to speak, was discarded and today still we have the opinion that it is a thing we don’t need. It was a fine kind of speculation and training of the mind in order to bring us into the possession of the wonderful scientific method. Now we can do everything by science, and philosophy is a thing that has no right whatsoever of its own.
I will only for the sake of discussion — I don’t want you to accept it as proof (part?) of the pursuit of our inquiry — say that I do not think so; that I rather think the opposite, namely, that this danger philosophy is now in of being entirely discarded and misused is due to two very specific trends of our modern development. Philosophy is being misused first as a means to bolster up the shaking foundations of theology. All modern theologians,
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if they are Catholics or if they are Protestants or if they are Jewish, try to say that real modern existential philosophy is just the best thing in order to become religious again — which means, philosophically speaking, that they have lost faith as well as the sheep coming to their churches. The leaders have lost faith. If they try to present us with a God who needs proof, what kind of a God can that be? No God ever needed proof. God needs faith and belief and not proof, so to take out of modern philosophical development arguments for theology and trying to make philosophy the handmaiden of theology again — what it was formerly in the Middle Ages — and the other attempt — namely, that of scientists and the best scientists, I mean the atomic physicists, scientists who are really the leading scientists of our time and mathematicians, the only ones who can really be sure that they have arrived at a pure scientific method and that this method works and they show us that it works. They have been looking at philosophy as a possible source to be used in order to draw a kind of over-all technique out of it: namely, formal logic, or things like that — all very fine scientific things, but they want to use philosophy for it, make philosophy the handmaiden of science — that is the situation of philosophy today, that is the danger it runs.
In the meantime we have discovered that all that
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progressive thinking and progressive education constantly leaves one thing out — namely, us, ourselves. It gives us a possibility to gain a tremendous knowledge, we learn how to handle things better — wonderful — and we develop in all directions, but all directions in which we develop have two things in commons namely, the directions are in no relation to each other, they cannot be brought into relations anymore because the center has been forgotten — namely, man. So nobody thinks about us anymore. We have become mere functions, mere tools in this so-called scientific development. Again, a danger and a chance. Science has come into its own and may, by the help of philosophy coming into its own, be able to see its own limits because a scientist is a man who knows what his science can give and what it cannot give. As soon as he thinks it can give more than it really can give then he becomes a boundless metaphysician who will, as Karl Marx, let’s say, tell us, »Here you have a key to history. You have just to apply this key to every situation and you will know.« As, let’s say, the Jewish Talmud would say, ›You will know like God what has been, what is, and what will be.‹ This claim is, of course, foolish because no science could ever be so general that it would give us such a nice opportunity that we would know exactly what would come and what then we have to do. We need for that courage, taking a risk, making up our own minds, running the risk of making errors
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— that means all things that we can only make up by philosophic thinking, living thinking, thinking about our own human affairs. Human affairs are not a subject matter for science. Only part of them are a possible subject matter for science, but not the whole and mainly not the essence of them can ever be made that except that we want to pay the price of the absolute loss of freedom and we are sometimes very near to being ready to pay that price for the sake of scientific convenience, for no other reason.
The decay of erotics — that means human personal and also intimate relations in our time is quite obvious. We have almost lost all behavior patterns except the merely social ones, the imposed ones, the remnant of so-called moral behavior for which we cannot even give account — let alone to give the reasons for it, except the reasons would be we have to get along with each other, but that’s no reason. We must not get along with each other3; we can also die. This is not a purpose; it is merely a means. Again this field of human, intimate relations has been bound to some decidedly non-erotical elements and has been ruled by religion; it has been ruled by metaphysical assumptions of the moral philosophers; it has been ruled by social customs of a society that was still a unity — not like ours, but a real unity. It has been influenced by all kinds of strange elements. It grew in itself also, but not so very strong and it is very much in danger of being destroyed. Here we
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find a field — inner human relations, intimate relations — that seems to be most fragile.
For instance, we abolished over-all, so to speak, the idea that love is a mystery. For religion, love is a mystery — a mystery only God could explain. Such a deep and dark mystery and by showing that that is not so, that we have no proof for this being so, we abolished with this idea all the customs that were bound, let’s say, to marriage to birth and to burial, and so we found that one fine day that we have left all those things that happen again and again in the life of every human being because this is not an eternal idea but an ever-recurring basic fundamental human situation of everyone of man and so it has something eternal in it and the fact that it has something eternal in it was in a way expressed by those strange and mysterious rituals that all kinds of myth and religion have constantly invented for marriage, birth, and death.
We had in the beginning of our lecture today a story in which the Persian king did behave entirely relativistic because he was unable to find the common denominator in both so-called sets of values and so to find out that they were much more than mere sets of values that one could reject or accept — namely, that they were acts of human evaluation. Both people invented the custom of cremating their parents as well as the others of eating their parents for exactly the same reason — that death is something human
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beings have eternally to cope with, something so un-understandable and so fundamental for human existence that it is one of the great opportunities where human beings can show their creativeness. In inventing rites (which represent ideas) that give a meaning to death and make man’s life meaningful instead of meaningless and empty and shallow, both people had the same motive — we have still the same motive and in an ironical way a modern custom that comes more and more into usage and has been parodied by Evelyn Waugh in his novel on modern American burial rites4. We paint them when they are dead and go and say he never looked more alive when he was alive and we try only one thing, namely, to forget him as soon as possible because we want to forget our own death.
We have turned our backs to death, to the significance of death in human life. This might to a degree be cowardice, but also more than cowardice — there’s a lot of courage in it too. This is not a very meaningful custom, but it still has meaning — it has significance for our inner position that we take towards an ever-recurring and so eternal existential event in man’s life — death. So by death — or let’s stick to love because it is a more pleasant topic, by taking out all mystery we say, ›Well, we have proven there is no real mystery. Love is not a mystery.‹ By that we have abolished the possibility to invent ritual for it and the girls get terribly unhappy about
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it because this thing that they feel is a tremendous event in their life — namely, marriage becomes entirely insignificant as a ritual. And they say, ›Let’s have a church wedding at least because something is going on, something is going on in order to show other people that this, my private event, has some deep significance, that it is not just a banality‹ — because we have made out of it a banality when we destroyed mystery because we had forgotten or didn’t arrive at the position to be taken towards a phenomenon like love that philosophy strives and fights for: namely, to show to every human being more and more that love as well as death is a miracle — not a mystery but a miracle. Something of deepest significance for human life, where we might never arrive at the end of the significance because it can be made more and more significant. It will always again and again, if we consider it anew, take on a deeper meaning. There’s a certain possibility of infinity of development of the creative human mind involved in all those basic experiences of man and if one stops that because one makes out of those things a banality to be just taken in one’s stride then one has already or is on the way to ruin one of one’s best creative capabilities — the capability to invent meaningful and more meaningful human attitudes to other human beings — and love is almost, as a creative capability, just this and no other opportunity.
Again not only the danger but also the chance: namely,
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the chance is that for the few, for few people who manage to feel and to take those situations of love still in earnest and finding no mystical or higher rulings for it, created personal attitudes and the so-called personal love which is the highest — namely, this person and no other and knowing why — has developed in a few people of our time to a degree even higher than in the adultery age of the Medieval singers — who first started to raise a claim of individual love — of one person to another regardless of social customs and social influence. In our time it has been written by poets, modern poets — and I think novelists are poets, too, and I use a philosophical term; all artists are poets, they just use different means — a few of the deepest personal intimate relations. So again, the chance — the chance of personal love — can be proved with plenty of examples in our time. The chance is there, and again we have the common phenomenon: this capability had been influenced by elements that were not elements of pure erotics all along in history and now in this situation of danger has also the chance to come purely into its own so that human relationships become possible that are established for no other reason but the mutual creativeness of this one human relationship. An aim made possible out of this decay of society — that makes the decay a fruitful soil.
Let’s look into politics: In politics we had ex-
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perienced a new phenomenon which took us all by surprise — namely, the fact that we who had so bravely fought in the 19th Century (and still in America are doing it) that the person should not be ruled by the state because the state is supposed to be the representative of a community of persons and not something above them — we who so bravely fought for that and so foolishly trusted another institution as being the opponent of this state — namely, society — bowing down before society, having ourselves swallowed by social customs, social niceties, and social behavior helped by the development of modern sociology — have suddenly found that a new tremendous monster power over men never seen before in history has arisen — totalitarianism — and has arisen exactly not as a state, but when society identifies itself with the state. This great monster that destroys every kind of human freedom — and human freedom is personal in its beginning — in the roots, came out of this development of society strictly. We checked the state but we didn’t check society. We didn’t see that the masses grew so warped that they wanted action at any price, and that the mobsters were around who could show them action at any price and could win them over in their majority (because Hitler almost came to power in Germany by a democratic process; he swindled only a little bit, 3 per cent, and almost had the majority of the German people when he came to power.) This new thing that threat-
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ens the political life of man as far as politics is one of his creative capabilities, absolutely, and threatens to kill it forever, making out of us nothing but functionaries of a machine we don’t even know — and this machine is the unification of the state principle and the society principle of our time.
This greatest danger of our time also starts to open up and to show the chances for the first time — not to politicians because politicians and statesmen are too active persons to be able in such a time to reconsider. But among modern philosophers a few voices come and say, ›Haven’t we been wrong from the beginning in all that political thinking of ours?‹ Is it perhaps so — to give you my formulation — that politics, which we had ruled, was also influenced by non-political elements — formerly religion, metaphysical science and lately science. We tried to make politics a science of human affairs. Haven’t we disregarded a fact, namely, that politics pure, if we could ever arrive at pure politics, politics taken in itself and its meaning for the human possibilities, has one fundamental indication that is absolutely opposite to the innermost laws of science? The innermost law of science is the results justify the means. That is absolutely true in science because in science we operate with what we call dead matter; we can experiment, the results we get at justify the means. And we had started, since the Renaissance, to handle politics
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in a scientific way — that means we took over this law: the end justifies the means — for politics. But in politics it is just the opposite. The means justify the end because there is no end in politics.
The basic human experiences that even if we finally all make up our mind in common agreement about one measure of politics, and we win over most of the people for this one measure, in the very process of putting through this measure it will be so immeasurably changed that we, the originators of it, will hardly recognize it any more. That is the fact in all human political striving — the basic fact which Max Weber said to us youngsters in Germany. The great sociologist in the last speech he made, when Germany was so hopeful with the revolution, and he talked to us about politics as a profession5 and looked at the end of the speech at everybody and said, ›My young friends, if you all, ten or fifteen years from now, will have experienced that the best things you have wanted, your best political ideas, your best will and your best deeds have been changed in your very hand to the very opposite of what you once wanted and when there are still a few after that defeat left among you, a few, who might come and say, »Let’s try it again«,6 those are the ones who have the call for politics.‹ We have experienced the truth of this statement because this historian knew this unheard of and invisible law of all human actions in politics — which is
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that we never can know of the end. What is left is the means we have used in order to achieve an end. Every little bit of justice by a means in politics puts more into the world here and now by using a means; every little bit more of freedom put into the world here and now by a means used in politics — that is what will finally survive, that is what finally makes things better. But we are not such big planners that we can invent a wonderful end and then slaughter half of humanity for this wonderful end and find out that the end was a dream in the first place that couldn’t be realized.
This inner turn in political thinking is to reconsider politics in its own implication — namely, just asking: ›What are human beings doing to politics and what is politics doing to human beings?‹ That is the still dim and vague beginning to show the chance that, in the political disaster of our time and the political chaos, there is an inherent hope showing.
So for almost all ranges of human activity the same indications and the same signs are there — a specific danger, a great danger, and a specific great chance. And we are the ones who have to decide will it be danger or will it be chance. What will prevail? Faulkner said in his speech in Stockholm7 — I enlarge on it a little bit but this was the meaning of it — that he in his work has always tried to show that man can endure — endure! — and he added,
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»But I hope and believe that now man is able to prevail.« The question of how long we could endure a situation like that if it is getting out of hand, I couldn’t answer. I would say I believe with Faulkner that men can endure more and more still. Man is strong, he is terribly strong — yet I do not hope with him but am sure that man has the possibility to prevail. This possibility to prevail — that means to change situations and to change such a situation as ours — into better conditions for the higher life of man. We are after that, to discover that; in order to discover that we must first make sure by taking an inventory of the powers we have today, then going into the inquiry: ›Is there at all such a thing as a possibility of freedom and creativeness of man?‹ and ›What are those capabilities?‹ ›How can we prove it?‹ Perhaps it is only an assumption like other metaphysical assumptions later proved to be untrue.
So critical inquiry into those fundamentals is our task — that means to try to re-establish the humanities. The humanities today have been killed by being on the one side liberal arts. The very title indicates it is things that people do who have nothing else to do or who can afford it. The other arts or sciences being the ones that are necessary; those being the ones that are unnecessary for human life — just ornaments, something we can afford and therefore as empty as the others which are necessary for inner human significance. On the other hand, humanities
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means that we ought to read the hundred great books that have been written. They will deliver a syntopicon to us in addition where we can find almost graphically what those and those great men have said about that and that and there we have our guide through life again and are educated persons, cultivated persons. A matter of idleness again. Mere learning; mere learning of what others have said. Significance for human affairs has been in those books, but is no more if we use them for the purpose of mere copying and imitation. The question is not academic painting. Everybody can be trained to paint a Greek nude as the Greeks did. The question is only the life will not be in it. We can still build Greek temples academically but there is a funny thing about them — they don’t have any life. But we can do another thing. We can take archaic Greek drawing, as Picasso did, and transform it into a very modern human, humanitarian and libertarian expression.
That is approximately the method in a symbol that we try to follow here: namely, to see that this center that has been left out — namely, man himself, starting with the question »Know Thyself,« become who you are, who are you, who am I, what can we do — that this is fundamental for modern humanities, for an establishment of modern humanities which are living humanities. The method is a philosophical one. We cannot accept the metaphysical idealistic method, or we cannot accept the supernaturalistic method
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which only tries to answer for us the questions ›What are we supposed to do, what we should be, what we ought to do?‹ We cannot follow it because we don’t believe that. Neither can we follow the scientific and naturalistic method, which applied to human matters — wrongly applied because it is not to be applied to human matters — tries to tell us what we must do, what we have to do because with all the circumstances considered and all the circumstances known by us we just have to make that move and no other, we have no choice, we have no freedom, we have only the freedom to find out what we are supposed to do and must do because the circumstances have imposed it on us. This ›you must‹ is true again in science. Wherever an affair is handled that is not a human affair, this scientific law applies, even to human beings. If I want to light my cigarette with a fire and I do not want to burn myself, then I just must hold this match in a certain position and in no other position. If I don’t I will see what I have done. This is like the wonderful inscription in the early times of Palestine on a tramway where it was written, ›You just jump off and you will see.‹ That applies to all scientific matters.
In human affairs those things are not possible and if they are applied to it we get monstrous theories that try, like a strict Marxism, to show us that if we do not just let the train of history go across our dead bodies,
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that we have always to jump on the right bandwagon; that it’s the only freedom we have — to find out what the right bandwagon is — and that we can make mistakes there which would be the only indication of human freedom — that we can make mistakes — a very negative kind of freedom. So we cannot use both methods. We use a third one — as I already said and say again.
Now we are deriving it from this lecture in appreciation of our situation as to our tools and our different fields of endeavor which have been split up and should be related by us again in order to give us a possibility not to become universal minds but to become minds in a fair equilibrium — and not mental cripples as we would become if we go in for merely expert and specialist work. To avoid that the modern humanities make a start to set this center and use the forgotten philosophical method only once before applied, the pure philosophical method applied by Socrates, the method that does not try to answer the questions ›What should you do, what ought you to do, or what do you have to do and must do?‹ — but first to find out what can you do, and is man at all a being that can do, and why — because that would make him a creative creature, a creature that can do. If we would find that this is the case — and this is merely an assumption up to now — that man is a being that can do, it would mean also that he is a being that can be. What that means we will have to see
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later. Finding out what we can do, it is then possible to say what we want to do in agreement. Applied to the question of being that would mean: what we want to be and what we do not want to be. And then we could make, as in a community, for instance, common decisions of what shall be and what shall not be — what we shall and will try to put into existence and what we want to leave out of existence or of being. If this method is applicable, if there is such a method, if we can make ourselves sure by reasoning it out that we are entitled to such a method, that it works, that we can use it, then we would have proven that freedom is possible because this is the meaning of freedom, of positive freedom, creative freedom.
It can be found only be re-considering and re-evaluating every great thing we have done in the past, finding how it has been done, finding common denominators — for instance, a common denominator between those two peoples that the Persian king could not find — namely, didn’t they act for the same reason, invent different answers for the same reason — and do we have to answer that reason too; namely, in our own way — and can we answer this reason and apply it in our own way? It could arrive — and that’s what I want to arrive at — at a conviction that we can do such things, then we would have opened up a way, a beginning of a way, of modern man that might lead out of this situation and change this situation because we have brought this situation about
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— that much is sure. Our forefathers and we together. We are only trying here first to hold ourselves responsible for it — not claiming that circumstances have just pushed us into that but trying to find the part of what we did in order to bring out this situation, and then trying to distinguish the negative and the positive elements in those our own doings. And when we have a clearer picture of that, then we might find a way to change the situation. That means we would have done work — not educated ourselves in order to become more cultivated men in this scholastic and Alexandrian manner, but in the real old classical Greek manner of having educated ourselves with the only aim that education originally had, namely, when Peleus, the father of Achilles, said when he gave his son Achilles to Chiron, the centaur (he was the wisest being of this time), ›Make him a doer of deeds and a maker of words.‹8 This is the meaning of education — the meaning of education is man’s education for meaning. With this paradox I want to conclude today and we will pursue in the next session again pur other line.
A few things I said today pursuing the second line — namely, the line going with certain insights of most modern philosophers who agree on certain points or who have taken up those problems I gave to you today, that they might be related to our own personal pursuit — namely, to find out step by step what serves us most in this situation, what are
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our problems, what do we think is the significance of our problems, and then later bringing in our third line of inquiry, the great pre-Platonic thinkers and their experience, original experience, of man’s situation in the world — because we are again concerned as they were and for the first time and afresh to ask the question! ›What is man’s situation in the world, or what can man’s situation in the world be?‹
1 »A painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions.« in: Barr Jr, A. H.: Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art, 1946.
3 This is most likely an incorrect translation from German [müssen – must / nicht müssen – not to have to]. Blücher probably means: We don’t have to get along with each other.
6 Orig.: »in spite of all« [»dennoch«].