The reflections set forth in this book seek to relate the
current impasse in philosophical thinking to the concrete
dilemma of the human outlook for the future.

The economic and social problems of the present time
have had both able and extensive treatment at the hands of
other writers in various countries. This book takes a differ-
ent approach. Its aim is to inquire into the concept of
rationality that underlies our contemporary industrial cul-
ture, in order to discover whether this concept does not
contain defects that vitiate it essentially.

At the moment of this writing, the peoples of the demo-
cratic nations are confronted with the problems of consum-
mating their victory of arms. They must work out and put
into practice the principles of humanity in the name of
which the sacrifices of war were made. The present po-
tentialities of social achievement surpass the expectations of
all the philosophers and statesmen who have ever outlined
in Utopian programs the idea of a truly human society. Yet
there" is a universal feeling of fear and disillusionment. The
hopes of mankind seem to be farther from fulfillment today
than they were even in the groping epochs when they were
first formulated by humanists. It seems that even as techni-
cal knowledge expands the horizon of man's thought and


activity, his autonomy as an individual, his ability to resist
the growing apparatus of mass manipulation, his power oi
imagination, his independent judgment appear to be re-
duced. Advance in technical facilities for enlightenment is
accompanied by a process of dehumanization. Thus progress
threatens to nullify the very goal it is supposed to realize-
the idea of man. Whether this situation is a necessary phase
in the general ascent of society as a whole, or whether it will
lead to a victorious re-emergence of the neo-barbarism re-
cently defeated on the battlefields, depends at least in part
on our ability to interpret accurately the profound changes
now taking place in the public mind and in human nature.

The following pages represent an endeavor to throw some
light on the philosophical implications of these changes.
To this end it has seemed necessary to discuss some of the
prevailing schools of thought as refractions of certain as-
pects of our civilization. In so doing the author is not
trying to suggest anything like a program of action. On the
contrary, he believes that the modern propensity to trans-
late every idea into action, or into active abstinence from
action, is one of the symptoms of the present cultural crisis:
action for action's sake is in no way superior to thought for
thought's sake, and is perhaps even inferior to it. As under-
stood and practiced in our civilization, progressive rationali-
zation tends, in my opinion, to obliterate that very substance
of reason in the name of which this progress is espoused.

The text of the several chapters of this volume is based
in part on a series of public lectures delivered at Columbia
University in the spring of 1944. To some extent the
presentation reflects the original structure of the lectures
rather than an attempt at closer knit organization of the


material. These lectures were designed to present in epi-
tome some aspects of a comprehensive philosophical theory
developed by the writer during the last few years in associ-
ation with Theodore W. Adorno. It would be difficult to
say which of the ideas originated in his mind and which in
my own; our philosophy is one. My friend Leo LowenthaTs
indefatigable co-operation and his advice as a sociologist
have been an invaluable contribution.

Finally, it is to be set down here, as an abiding recogni-
tion, that all of my work would be unthinkable without the
material assurance and the intellectual solidarity that I have
found in the Institute of Social Research through the last
two decades.

Max Horlcheimer
Institute of Social Research

(Columbia University)
March 1946










WHEN THE ordinary man is asked to explain what is
meant by the term reason, his reaction is almost
always one of hesitation and embarrassment. It would be
a mistake to interpret this as indicating wisdom too deep
or thought too abstruse to be put into words. What it
actually betrays is the feeling that there is nothing to inquire
into, that the concept of reason is self-explanatory, that the
question itself is superfluous. When pressed for an answer,
the average man will say that reasonable things are things
that are obviously useful, and that every reasonable man is
supposed to be able to decide what is useful to him. Nat-
urally the circumstances of each situation, as well as laws,
customs, and traditions, should be taken into account. But
the force that ultimately makes reasonable actions possible
is the faculty of classification, inference, and deduction, no
matter what the specific content the abstract function-
ing of the thinking mechanism. This type of reason
may be called subjective reason. It is essentially concerned
with means and ends, with the adequacy of procedures for
purposes more or less taken for granted and supposedly
self-explanatory. Jft attaches little importance to the^ques-
tion whether the purposes as such are reasonable. If it

,~^_ - .. . Jt L - '

concerns itself at all with ends, it takes for granted that



they too are reasonable in the subjective sense, i.e. that they
serve' the subject's interest in elation_Jo_sel^^^^
be it that of the single individual, or of the community on
whose maint(raancfLhatjoJii^ The

idea that an aim can be reasonable for its own sake on the
basis of virtues that insight reveals it to have in itself
without reference to some kind of subjective gain or ad-
vantage, is utterly alien to subjective reason, even where it
rises above thetonsideration of immediate utilitarian values
and devotes itself to reflections about the social order as a

However naive or superficial this definition of reason
may seem, it is an important symptom of a profound change
of outlook that has taken place in Western thinking in the
course of the last centuries. For a long time, a diametrically
opposite view of reason was prevalent. This view asserted
the existence of reason as a force not only in the individual
mind but also in the objective world in relations among
human beings and between social classes, in social institu-
tions, and in nature and its manifestations. Great philosoph-
ical systems, such as those of Plato and Aristotle, scholas-
ticism, and German idealism were founded on an objective
theory of reason. It aimed at evolving a comprehensive
system, or hierarchy, of all beings, including man and his
aims. The degree of reasonableness of a man's life could be
determined according to its harmony with this totality ^
Its objective structure, and not just man and his purposes,
was to be the measuring rod for individual thoughts and
actions. This concept of reason never precluded subjective
reason, but regarded the latter as only a partial, limited ex-
pression of a universal rationality from which criteria for


all things and beings were derived. The emphasis was on
ends rather than on means. The supreme endeavor of this
kind of thinking was to reconcile the objective order of the
'reasonable/ as philosophy conceived it, with human ex-
istence, including self-interest and self-preservation. Plato,
for instance, undertakes in his Republic to prove that he
who lives in the light of objective reason also lives a success-
ful and happy life. The theory of objective reason did not
focus on the co-ordination of behavior and aim, but on
concepts however mythological they sound to us today
on the idea of the greatest good, on the problem of hu-
man destiny, and on the way of realization of ultimate

There is a fundamental difference between this theory,
according to which reason is a principle inherent in reality,
and the doctrine that reason is a subjective faculty of the
mind. According to the latter, the subject alone can gen-
uinely have reason: if we say that an institution or any
other reality is reasonable, we usually mean that men have
organized it reasonably, that they have applied to it, in a
more or less technical way, their logical, calculative capacity.

calculate probabilities and thereby to co-ordinate the right
means with si given .endrThis definition seems to be in
harmony with the ideas of many outstanding philosophers,
particularly of English thinkers since the days of John
Locke. Of course, Locke did not overlook other mental
functions that might fall into the same category, for ex-
ample discernment and reflection. But these functions
certainly contribute to the co-ordination of means and ends,
which is, after all, the social concern of science and, in a


way, the xaison d'etre of theory in the social process of pro-

In the subjectivist view, when 'reason' is used to connote
a thing or an idea rather than an act, it refers exclusively to
the relation of such an object or concept to a purpose, not
to the object or concept itself. It means that the thing or
the idea is good for something else. There is no reasonable
aim as such, and to discuss the superiority of one aim over
another in terms of reason becomes meaningless. From the
subjective approach, such a discussion is possible only if
both aims serve a third and higher one, that is, if they are
means, not ends. 1

The relation between these two concepts of reason is not
merely one of opposition. Historically, both the subjective
and the objective aspect of reason have been present from
the outset, and the predominance of the former over the
latter was achieved in the course of a long process. Reason
in its proper sense of logos, or ratio, has always been essen-
tially related to the subject, his faculty of thinking. All the

1 The difference between this connotation of reason and the objectivistic
conception resembles to a certain degree the difference between functional
and substantial rationality as these words are used in the Max Weber
school. Max Weber, however, adhered so definitely to the subjectivistic
trend that he did not conceive of any rationality not even a 'substantial'
one by which man can discriminate one end from another. If our drives,
intentions, and finally our ultimate decisions must a priori be irrational,
substantial reason becomes an agency merely of correlation and is there-
fore itself essentially 'functional/ Although Weber's own and his fol-
lowers' descriptions of the bureaucratization and monopolization of knowl-
edge have illuminated much of the social aspect of the transition from
objective to subjective reason (cf. particularly the analyses of Karl Mann-
heim in Man and Society, London, 1940), Max Weber's pessimism with
regard to the possibility of rational insight and action, as expressed in his
philosophy (cf., e.g., 'Wissenschaft als Beruf/ in Gesammelte Aufsarze
zur Wissensehaftslehre, Tubingen, 1922), is itself a stepping-stone in the
renunciation of philosophy and science as regards their aspiration of defin-
ing man's goal.


terms denoting it were once subjective expressions; thus the
Greek term stems from Mry&v, 'to say,' denoting the sub-
jective faculty of speech. The subjective faculty of thinking
was the critical agent that dissolved superstition. But in
denouncing mythology as false objectivity, i.e. as a creation
of the subject, it had to use concepts that it recognized as
adequate. Thus it always developed an objectivity of its
own. In Platonism, the Pythagorean theory of numbers,
which originated in astral mythology, was transformed into
the theory of ideas that attempts to define the supreme con-
tent of thinking as an absolute objectivity ultimately be-
yond, though related to, the faculty of thinking. The
present crisis of reason consists fundamentally in the fact
that at a certain point thinking either became incapable of
conceiving such objectivity at all or began to negate it as a
delusion. This process was gradually extended to include
the objective content of every rational concept. In the
end, no particular reality can seem reasonable per se; all the
basic concepts, emptied of their content, have come to be
only formal shells. As reason is subjectivized, it also be-
comes formalized. 2

The formalization of reason has far-reaching theoretical
and practical implications. If the subjectivist view holds
true, thinking cannot be of any help in determining the
desirability of any goal in itself. The acceptability of ideals,
the criteria for our actions and beliefs, the leading principles
of ethics and politics, all our ultimate decisions are made
to depend upon factors other than reason. They are sup-

2 The terms subjectivization and formalization, though in many respects
not identical in meaning, will be used as practically equivalent throughout
this book.


posed to be matters of choice and predilection, and it has
become meaningless to speak of truth in making practical,
moral, or esthetic decisions. 'A judgment of fact/ says
Russell, 3 one of the most objectivist thinkers among sub-
jectivists, 'is capable of a property called ''truth/' which it
has or does not have quite independently of what any one
may think about it. ... But ... I see no property,
analogous to "truth/ 7 that belongs or does not belong to an
ethical judgment. This, it must be admitted, puts ethics
in a different category from science/ However, Russell,
more than others, is aware of the difficulties in which such a
theory necessarily becomes involved. 'An inconsistent sys-
tem may well contain less falsehood than a consistent one/ *
Despite his philosophy, which holds 'ultimate ethical values
to be subjective/ 5 he seems to differentiate between the
objective moral qualities of human actions and our percep-
tion of them: 'What is horrible I will see as horrible/ He
has the courage of inconsistency and thus, by disavowing
certain aspects of his anti-dialectical logic, remains indeed
a philosopher and a humanist at the same time. If he were
to cling to his scientistic theory consistently, he would have
to admit that there are no horrible actions or inhuman
conditions, and that the evil he sees is just an illusion.
According to such theories, thought serves any particular
endeavor, good or bad. It is a tool of all actions of society,
but it must not try to set the patterns of social and in-
dividual life, which are assumed to be set by other forces.
In lay discussion as well as in scientific, reason has come to

3 'Reply to' Criticisms/ in The Philosophy of Bertrand RusseZI, Chicago,
1944 p 723.

4 Ibid. p. 720.

5 Ibid


be commonly regarded as an intellectual faculty of co-ordi-
nation, the efficiency of which can be increased by methodi-
cal use and by the removal of any non-intellectual factors,
such as conscious or unconscious emotions. Reason has
never really directed social reality, but now reason has been
so thoroughly purged of any specific trend or preference
that it has finally renounced even the task of passing judg-
ment on man's actions and way of life. Reason has turned
them over for ultimate sanction to the conflicting interests
to which our world actually seems abandoned.

This relegation of reason to a subordinate position is in
sharp contrast to the ideas of the pioneers of bourgeois
civilization, the spiritual and political representatives of the
rising middle class, who were unanimous in declaring that
reason plays a leading role in human behavior, perhaps even
the predominant role. They defined a wise legislature as
one whose laws conform to reason; national and inter-
national policies were judged according to whether they
followed the lines of reason. Reason was supposed to regu-
late our preferences and our relations with other human
beings and with nature. It was thought of as an entity, a
spiritual power living in each man. This power was held
to be the supreme arbiter nay, more, the creative force
behind the ideas and things to which we should devote our

Today, when you are summoned into a traffic court, and
the judge asks you whether your driving was reasonable, he
means: Did you do everything in your power to protect your
own and other people's lives and property, and to obey the
law? He implicitly assumes that these values must be re-
spected. What he questions is merely the adequacy of your


behavior in terms of these generally recognized standards.
In most cases, to be reasonable means not to be obstinate,
which in turn points to conformity with reality as it is. The
principle of adjustment is taken for granted. When the
idea of reason was conceived, it was intended to achieve
more than the mere regulation of the relation between
means and ends: it was regarded as the instrument for un-
derstanding the ends, for determining them. Socrates died
because he subjected the most sacred and most familiar
ideas of his community and his country to the critique of
the daimonion, or dialectical thought, as Plato called it.
In doing so, he fought against both ideologic conservatism
and relativism masked as progressiveness but actually subor-
dinated to personal and professional interests. In other
words, he fought against the subjective, formalistic reason
advocated by the other Sophists. He undermined the sacred
tradition of Greece, the Athenian way of life, thus preparing
the soil for radically different forms of individual and social
life. Socrates held that reason, conceived as
sight, should determine foflfefa regnbf-e relations

man and man,, .yd between man and nature

Although his doctrine might be considered tfrq pfrilp-
sophicfll origin of thft ronrq.r>f.the subject aoJtJmat e
jiidgLflf good . and evil, he spokfi ,.(-ra^
verdicts not as mere names or conventions, but as reflect-
ing the true nature of things. As negativistic as his teachings
may have been, they implied the idea of absolute truth and
were put forward as objective insights, almost as revelations.
His daimonion was a more spiritual god, but he was not less
real than the other gods were believed to be. His name was
supposed to denote a living force. In Plato's philosophy


the Socratic power of intuition or conscience, the new god
within the individual subject, has dethroned or at least
transformed his rivals in Greek mythology. They have be-
come ideas. There is no question whether they are simply
his creatures, products or contents similar to the sensations
of the subject according to the theory of subjective ideal-
ism. On the contrary, they still preserve some of the pre-
rogatives of the old gods: they occupy a higher and nobler
sphere than humans, they are models, they are immortal.
The daimonion in turn has changed into the soul, and the
soul is the eye that can perceive the ideas. It reveals itself
as the vision of truth or as the individual subject's faculty
to perceive the eternal order of things and consequently
the line of action that must be followed in the temporal

The term objective reason thus on the one hand denotes
as its essence a structure inherent in reality that by itself
calls for a specific mode of behavior in each specific case,
be it a practical or a theoretical attitude. Thi? structure is
accessible to him who takes upon himself the effort of
dialectical thinking* or. identically, who is capablff, of
On the other hand r the terqi objective reason .may
designate this very effort and ability to reflect^ndLailjib-
jective order. Everybody is familiar with situations that by
their very nature, and quite apart from the interests of the
subject, call for a definite line of actionfor example, a
child or an animal on the verge of drowning, a starving popu-
lation, or an individual illness. Each of these situations
speaks, as it were, a language of itself. However, since they
are only segments of reality, each of them may have to be
neglected because there are more comprehensive structures


the Socratic power of intuition or conscience, the new god
within the individual subject, has dethroned or at least
transformed his rivals in Greek mythology. They have be-
come ideas. There is no question whether they are simply
his creatures, products or contents similar to the sensations
of the subject according to the theory of subjective ideal-
ism. On the contrary, they still preserve some of the pre-
rogatives of the old gods: they occupy a higher and nobler
sphere than humans, they are models, they are immortal.
The daimonion in turn has changed into the soul, and the
soul is the eye that can perceive the ideas. It reveals itself
as the vision of truth or as the individual subject's faculty
to perceive the eternal order of things and consequently
the line of action that must be followed in the temporal

The term objective reason thus on the one hand denotes'
as its essence a structure inherent in reality that by itself
calls for a specific mode of behavior in each specific case,
be it a practical or a theoretical attitude. Thi? ftfr^cfa^ js
accessible to him who takes upon himself the effort of
dialectical thinking, or. identically^ who is capable of CTWr
Op the Qtfrer hflpd, the term objective TO?,,SQH rpqy also
designate this very effort and ability to reflect such aa_nb-
iective order. Everybody is familiar with situations that byi
their very nature, and quite apart from the interests of the
subject, call for a definite line of action for example, a
child or an animal on the verge of drowning, a starving popu-
lation, or an individual illness. Each of these situations
speaks, as it were, a language of itself. However, since they
are only segments of reality, each of them may have to be
neglected because there are more comprehensive structures


demanding other lines of action equally independent of
personal wishes and interests.

systems of objective reasprLjmpligd

bdng couldl feg discovered and a conception^ gf
derived .from it ,They .umbcatood

of thig n^ne^ as an i

speculation. They were opposed to any

epistemology that would reduce the objective basis of our
insight to a chaos of uncoordinated data, and identify our
scientific work as the mere organization, classification, or
computation of such data. The latter activities, in which
subjective reason tends to see the main function of science,
are in the light of the classical systems of objective reason
subordinate to speculation. Qhjgctive^ieason aspires to

r H>!!L^

thought and insight anj! thus to become a source of tradi-

tion all by itself. Its attack on mythology is perhaps more
serious than that of subjective reason, which, abstract and
formalistic as it conceives itself to be, is inclined to abandpn
the fight with religion by s^^

one for science and philosophy, and one for instjtutJiQaal'-
jg<l mythpljogy, thus recognizing both of them. For the
philosophy of objective reason there is no such way out.
Since it holds to the concept of objective truth, it must take
a positive or a negative stand with regard to the content of
established religion. Therefore the critique of social beliefs
in the name of objective reason is much more portentous
although it is sometimes less direct and aggressive than
that put forward in the name of subjective reason.
In modern times, reason has displayed a tendency to dis-


solve its own objective content. It is true that in sixteenth-
century France the concept of a life dominated by reason
as the ultimate agency was again advanced. Montaigne
adapted it to individual life, Bodin to the life of nations,
and De TH6pital practiced it in politics. Despite certain
skeptical declarations on their part, their work furthered the
abdication of religion in favor of reason as the supreme in-
tellectual authority. At that time, however, reason acquired
a new connotation, which found its highest expression in
French literature and in some degree^ is still preserved in
modern popular usage. It came to signify a conciliatory at-
titude. Differences over religion, which with the decline of
the medieval church had become the favorite ground on
which to thrash out opposing political tendencies, were no
longer taken seriously, and no creed or ideology was con-
sidered worth defending to the death. This concept df
reason was doubtless more humane but at the same time
weaker than the religious concept of truth, more pliable to
prevailing interests, more adaptable to reality as it is, and
therewith from the very beginning in danger of surrender-
ing to the 'irrational/

Reason now denoted the point of view of scholars, states-
men, and humanists, who deemed the conflicts in religious
doctrine more or less meaningless in themselves and looked
upon them as slogans or propaganda devices of various
political factions. T^the humanists there was no incon-
gruity about a people living under one government, within
given boundaries, and yet j^rof^ing_


beast- t>ut to - create layQiaM&,QB


merce and industry, to solidify law and order, to assure its
citizens peace inside and protection outside the country.
With regard to the individual, reason now played the same
part as that held in politics by the sovereign state, which
was concerned with the well-being of the people and op-
posed to fanaticism and civil war.

The divorce of reason from religion marked a further step
in the weakening of its objective aspect and a higher degreg
of f ormalization, as became manifest later during the period
o.the EnlightenmBt But in the seventeenth century the
objective aspect of reason still predominated, because the
main, effort of rationalist philosophy was to formulate a
doctrine of man and nature that could fulfil the intellectual
function? at least for the privileged sector of society- fl^t
^ig^,^A t lQim^,J^^d. From the time of_the
Renaissance, men have tried to excogitate a doctrine as com-
prehensive as theology entirely on their own, instead of
accepting their ultimate goals and values from a spiritual
qjftthority. Philosophy prided itself on being the instrument
for deriving, explaining, revealing the content of reason as
reflecting the true nature of things and the correct pattern
of living. Spj&i^^ that insist Mo

eternal universe, necessarily awakens love for this universe.
For him, ethical conduct is entirely determined by such
insight into nature, just as our devotion to a person may be
determined by insight into his greatness or genius. Fears
and petty passions, alien to the great love of the universe,
which is logos itself, will vanish, according to Spinoza, once
our understanding of reality is deep enough.
The other great rationalist systems of the past also em-


phasize that reason will recognize itself in the nature of

attitude springs from such

insight. This attitude is not necessarily the same for every
individual, because the situation of each is unique. There
are geographical and historical differences, as well as differ-
ences of age, sex, skill, social status, et cetera. However,
such insight is universal in so far as its logical connection
with the attitude is theoretically self-evident for each im-
aginable subject endowed with intelligence. Under the
philosophy of reason, insight into the plight of an enslaved
people, for instance, might induce a young man to fight
for its liberation, but would allow his father to stay at home
and till the land. Despite such differences in its conse-
quences, the logical nature of this insight is felt to be in-
telligible to all people in general,

Although these rationalist philosophical systems did not
command as wide allegiance as religion had claimed, they
were appreciated as efforts to record the meaning and exi-
gencies of reality and to present truths that are binding for
everybody. Their authors thought that the lumen naturale,
natural insight or the light of reason, was sufficient also to
penetrate so deeply into creation as to provide us with keys
for harmonizing human life with nature both in the external
world and within man's own being. They retained God, but
not grace; they thought that for all purposes of theoretical
knowledge and practical decision, man could do without any
lumen supranaturale. Their speculative reproductions of the
universe, not the sensualistic epistemologies Giordano
Bruno and not Telesio, Spinoza and not Locke clashed di-
rectly with traditional religion, because the intellectual as-
pirations of the metaphysicians were much more concerned


with the doctrines of God, creation, and the meaning of life
than were the theories of the empiricists.
* In the philosophical and political systems of rationalism,
Christian ethics was secularized. The aims pursued in in-
dividual and social activity were derived from the assump-
tion of the existence of certain innate ideas or self-evident
intuitions, and thus linked to the concept of objective truth,
although this truth was no longer regarded as being guaran-
teed by any dogma extraneous to the exigencies of thinking
itself. Neither the church nor the rising philosophical
systems separated wisdom, ethics, religion, and politics.
But the fundamental unity of all human beliefs, rooted in a
common Christian ontology, was gradually shattered, and
the relativist tendencies that had been explicit in the pio-
neers of bourgeois ideology such as Montaigne, but had
later been temporarily pushed into the background by
rationalist metaphysics, asserted themselves victoriously in
all cultural activities.

Of course, as suggested above, when philosophy began
to supplant religion, it did not intend to abolish objective
truth, but was attempting only to give it a new rational
foundation. The contention in regard to the nature of the
absolute was not the main ground on which metaphysicians
were persecuted and tortured. The real issue was whether
revelation or reason, whether theology or philosophy, should
be the agency for determining and expressing ultimate truth.
Just as the church defended the ability, the right, the duty
of religion to teach the people how the world was created,
what its purpose is, and how they should behave, so phi-
losophy defended the ability, the right, the duty of the mind
to discover the nature of things and to derive the right
modes of activity from such insight. Catholicism and Euro-


pean rationalist philosophy were in complete agreement
regarding the existence of a reality about which such insight
could be gained; indeed, the assumption of this reality
was the common ground on which their conflicts took

The two intellectual forces that were at odds with this
particular presupposition were Calvinism, through its doc-
trine of Deus absconditus, and empiricism, through its no-
tion, first implicit and later explicit, that metaphysics is
concerned exclusively with pseudo-problems. But the
Catholic Church opposed philosophy precisely because the
new metaphysical systems asserted the possibility of an in-
sight that should itself determine the moral and religious
decisions of man.

Eventually the active controversy between religion and
philosophy ended in a stalemate because the two were con-
sidered as separate branches of culture. People have gradu-
ally become reconciled to the idea that each lives its own
life within the walls of its cultural compartment, tolerating
the other. The neutralization of religion, now reduced to
the status of one cultural good among others, contradicted
its 'total' claim that it incorporates objective truth, and
also emasculated it. Although religion remained respected
on the surface, its neutralization paved the way for its elim-
ination as the medium of spiritual objectivity and ultimately
for the abolition of the concept of such an objectivity, itself
patterned after the idea of the absoluteness of religious rev-

In reality the contents of both philosophy and religion
have been deeply affected by this seemingly peaceful settle-
ment of their original conflict. The philosophers of the
Enlightenment attacked religion in the name of reason; in


the end what they killed was not the church but metaphysics
and the objective concept of reason itself, the source of
power of their own efforts. Reason as an organ for perceiv-
ing the true nature of reality and determining the guiding
principles of our lives has come to be regarded as obsolete.
Speculation is synonymous with metaphysics, and meta-
physics with mythology and superstition. We might say
that the history of reason or enlightenment from its begin-
nings in Greece down to the present has led to a state of
affairs in which even the word reason is suspected of connot-
ing some mythological entity. Reason has liquidated itself
as an agency of ethical, moral, and religious insight. Bishop
Berkeley, legitimate son of nominalism, Protestant zealot,
and positivist enlightener all in one, directed an attack
against such general concepts, including the concept of a
general concept, two hundred years ago. In fact, the cam-
paign has been victorious all along the line. Berkeley, in
partial contradiction of his own theory, retained a few gen-
eral concepts, such as mind, spirit, and cause. But they
were efficiently eliminated by Hume, the father of modern

Religion seemingly profited from this development. The
formalization of reason has made it safe from any serious at-
tack on the part of metaphysics or philosophical theory, and
this security seems to make it an extremely practical social
instrument. At the same time, however, its neutrality means
the wasting away of its real spirit, its relatedness to truth,
once believed to be the same in science, art, and politics,
and for all mankind. The death of speculative reason, at
first religion's servant and later its foe, may prove cata-
strophic for religion itself.


All these consequences were contained in germ in the
bourgeois idea of tolerance, which is ambivalent On the
one hand, tolerance means freedom from the rule of dog-
matic authority; on the other, it furthers an attitude of
neutrality toward all spiritual content, which is thus sur-
rendered to relativism. Each cultural domain preserves its
'sovereignty' with regard to universal truth. The pattern of
the social division of labor is automatically transferred to
the life of the spirit, and this division of the realm of culture
is a corollary to the replacement of universal objective truth
by formalized, inherently relativist reason.

The political implications of rationalist metaphysics came
to the fore in the eighteenth century, when, through the
American and French revolutions, the concept of the na-
tion became a guiding principle. In modern history this
concept has tended to displace religion as the ultimate,
supra-individual motive in human life. The nation draws
its authority from reason rather than from revelation, reason
being thus conceived as an aggregate of fundamental in-
sights, innate or developed by speculation, not as an agency
concerned merely with the means for putting them into

Self-interest, on which certain theories of natural law and
hedonistic philosophies have tried to place primary em-
phasis, was held to be only one such insight, regarded as
rooted in the objective structure of the universe and thus
forming a part in the whole system of categories. In the
industrial age, the idea of self-interest gradually gained the
upper hand and finally suppressed the other motives con-
sidered fundamental to the functioning of society; this
attitude dominated in the leading schools of thought and,


during the liberalistic period, in the public mind. But the
same process brought to the surface the contradictions be-
tween the theory of self-interest and the idea of the nation.
Philosophy then was confronted with the alternative of
accepting the anarchistic consequences of this theory or of
falling prey to an irrational nationalism much more tainted
with romanticism than were the theories of innate ideas that
prevailed in the mercantilist period.

The intellectual imperialism of the abstract principle of
self-interest the core of the official ideology of liberalism-
indicated the growing schism between this ideology and
social conditions within the industrialized nations. Once
the cleavage becomes fixed in the public mind, no effective
rational principle of social cohesion remains. The idea
of the national community (VolJbgemeinschaft), first
set up as an idol, can eventually be maintained only by
terror. This explains the tendency of liberalism to tilt over
into fascism and of the intellectual and political representa-
tives of liberalism to make their peace with its opposites.
This tendency, so often demonstrated in recent European
history, can be derived, apart from its economic causes, from
the inner contradiction between the subjectivistic principle
of self-interest and the idea of reason that it is alleged to ex-
press. Originally the political constitution was thought of
as an expression of concrete principles founded in objective
reason; the ideas of justice, equality, happiness, democracy,
property, all were held to correspond to reason, to emanate
from reason. Subsequently, the content of reason is reduced
arbitrarily to the scope of merely a part of this content, to
the frame of only one of its principles; the particular pre-
empts the place of the universal. This tour de force in the


realm of the intellectual lays the ground for the rule of force
in the domain of the political.

Having given up autonomy, reason has become an in-
strument. In the formalistic aspect of subjective reason,
stressed by positivism, its unrelatedness to objective content
is emphasized; in its instrumental aspect, stressed by prag-
matism, its surrender to heteronomous contents is empha-
sized. Reason has become completely harnessed to the
social process. Its operational value, its role in the domi-
nation of men and nature, has been made the sole criterion.
Concepts have been reduced to summaries of the character-
istics that several specimens have in common. By denoting
a similarity, concepts eliminate the bother of enumerating
qualities and thus serve better to organize the material of
knowledge. They are thought of as mere abbreviations of
the items to which they refer. Any use transcending auxili-
ary, technical summarization of factual data has been elimi-
nated as a last trace of superstition. Concepts have become
'streamlined/ rationalized, labor-saving devices. It is as if
thinking itself had been reduced to the level of industrial
processes, subjected to a close schedule in short, made
part and parcel of production. Toynbee 6 has described
some of the consequences of this process for the writing of
history. He speaks of the 'tendency for the potter to become
the slave of his clay. ... In the world of action, we know
that it is disastrous to treat animals or human beings as
though they were stocks and stones. Why should we sup-
pose this treatment to be any less mistaken in the world of

The more ideas have become automatic, instrumental-

8 A Study of History, zd ed., London, 1935, vol. i, p. 7.


ized, the less does anybody see in them thoughts with a
meaning of their own,. They are considered things, ma-
chines. Language has been reduced to just another tool in
the gigantic apparatus of production in modern society.
Every sentence that is not equivalent to an operation in that
apparatus appears to the layman just as meaningless as it is
held to be by contemporary semanticists who imply that
the purely symbolic and operational, that is, the purely
senseless sentence, makes sense. Meaning is supplanted
by function or effect in the world of things and events.
In so far as words are not used obviously to calculate
technically relevant probabilities or for other practical
purposes, among which even relaxation is included, they
are in danger of being suspect as sales talk of some kind,
for truth is no end in itself.

In the era of relativism, when even children look upon
ideas as advertisements or rationalizations, the very fear
that language might still harbor mythological residues has
endowed words with a new mythological character. True,
ideas have been radically functionalized and language is con-
sidered a mere tool, be it for the storage and communication
of the intellectual elements of production or for the guid-
ance of the masses. At the same time, language takes its
revenge, as it were, by reverting to its magic stage. As in the
days of magic, each word is regarded as a dangerous force
that might destroy society and for which the speaker must
be held responsible. Correspondingly, the pursuit of truth,
under social control, is curtailed. The difference between
thinking and acting is held void. Thus every thought is re-
garded as an act; every reflection is a thesis, and every thesis


is a watchword. Everyone is called on the carpet for what
he says or does not say. Everything and everybody is classi-
fied and labeled. The quality of the human that precludes
identifying the individual with a class is 'metaphysical' and
has no place in empiricist epistemology. The pigeon-hole
into which a man is shoved circumscribes his fate. As soon
as a thought or a word becomes a tool, one can dispense
with actually 'thinking' it, that is, with going through the
logical acts involved in verbal formulation of it. As has
been pointed out, often and correctly, the advantage of
mathematics the model of all neo-positivistic thinking-
lies in just this 'intellectual economy/ Complicated logical
operations are carried out without actual performance of
all the intellectual acts upon which the mathematical and
logical symbols are based. Such mechanization is indeed
essential to the expansion of industry; but if it becomes the
characteristic feature of minds, if reason itself is instru-
mentalized, it takes on a kind of materiality and blindness,
becomes a fetish, a magic entity that is accepted rather than
intellectually experienced.

What are the consequences of the formalization of rea-
son? Justice, equality, happiness, tolerance, all the concepts
that, as mentioned, were in preceding centuries supposed
to be inherent in or sanctioned by reason, have lost their in-
tellectual roots. They are still aims and ends, but there is
no rational agency authorized to appraise and link them to
an objective reality. Endorsed by venerable historical docu-
ments, they may still enjoy a certain prestige, and some are
contained in the supreme law of the greatest countries.
Nevertheless, they lack any confirmation by reason in its


modern sense. Who can say that any one of these ideals is
more closely related to truth than its opposite? According
' to the philosophy of the average modern intellectual, there
is only one authority, namely, science, conceived as the
classification of facts and the calculation of probabilities.
The statement that justice and freedom are better in them-
selves than injustice and oppression is scientifically unveri-
fiable and useless. It has come to sound as meaningless in
itself as would the statement that red is more beautiful than
blue, or that an egg is better than milk.

The more the concept of reason becomes emasculated,
the more easily it lends itself to ideological manipulation
and to propagation of even the most blatant lies. The ad-
vance of enlightenment dissolves the idea of objective
reason, dogmatism, and superstition; but often reaction and
obscurantism profit most from this development. Vested
interests opposed to the traditional humanitarian values
will appeal to neutralized, impotent reason in the name of
'common sense/ This devitalization of basic concepts can
be followed through political history. In the American
Constitutional Convention of 1787, John Dickinson of
Pennsylvania contrasted experience with reason when he
said: 'Experience must be our only guide. Reason may
mislead us/ 7 He wished to caution against a too radical
idealism. Later the concepts became so emptied of sub-
stance that they could be used synonymously to advocate
oppression. Charles O'Conor, a celebrated lawyer of the
period before the Civil War, once nominated for the presi-
dency by a faction of the Democratic party, argued (after

7 Cf. Morrison and Commager, The Growth of the American Republic,
New York, 1942, vol. i, p. 281.


outlining the blessings of compulsory servitude) : 'I insist
that negro slavery is not unjust; it is just, wise, and benefi-
cent ... I insist that negro slavery ... is ordained by
nature . . . Yielding to the clear decree of nature, and the
dictates of sound philosophy, we must pronounce that in-
stitution just, benign, lawful and proper/ 8 Though O'Conor
still uses the words nature, philosophy, and justice, they
are completely formalized and cannot stand up against what
he considers to be facts and experience. Subjective reason
conforms to anything. It lends itself as well to the uses' of
the adversaries as of the defenders of the traditional humani-
tarian values. It furnishes, as in O'Conor's instance, the
ideology for profit and reaction as well as the ideology for
progress and revolution.

Another spokesman for slavery, Fitzhugh, author of
Sociology for the South, seems to remember that once
philosophy stood for concrete ideas and principles and there-
fore attacks it in the name of common sense. He thus ex-
presses, though in a distorted form, the clash between the
subjective and objective concepts of reason.

Men of sound judgments usually give wrong reasons for
their opinions because they are not abstractionists. . . . Phi-
losophy beats them all hollow in argument, yet instinct and
common sense are right and philosophy wrong. Philosophy is
always wrong and instinct and common sense always right, be-
cause philosophy is unobservant and reasons from narrow and
insufficient premises. 9

8 A Speech at the Union Meeting at the Academy of Music, New
York City, December 19, 1859, reprinted under title, 'Negro Slavery
Not Unjust/ by the New York Herald Tribune.

9 George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South or the Failure of Free
Society, Richmond, Va., 1854, PP* * 18-19.


Fearing idealistic principles, thinking as such, and intel-
lectuals and Utopians, the writer prides himself on his com-
mon sense, which sees no wrong in slavery.

The basic ideals and concepts of rationalist metaphysics
were rooted in the concept of the universally human, of
mankind, and their formalization implies that they have
been severed from their human content. How this de-
humanization of thinking affects the very foundations of
our civilization, can be illustrated by analysis of the prin-
ciple of the majority, which is inseparable from the principle
of democracy. In the eyes of the average man, the principle
of the majority is often not only a substitute for but an im-
provement upon objective reason: since men are after all
the best judges of their own interests, the resolutions of a
majority, it is thought, are certainly as valuable to a com-
munity as the intuitions of a so-called superior reason. How-
ever, the contradiction between intuition and the demo-
cratic principle, conceived in such crude terms, is only imag-
inary. For what does it mean to say that 'a man knows his
own interests best' how does he gain this knowledge, what
evidences that his knowledge is correct? In the proposition,
"A man knows . . . best/ there is an implicit reference to
an agency that is not totally arbitrary and that is incidental
to some sort of reason underlying not only means but ends
as well. If that agency should turn out to be again merely
the majority, the whole argument would constitute a tau-

The great philosophical tradition that contributed to the
founding of modern democracy was not guilty of this tau-
tology, for it based the principles of government upon more
or less speculative assumptions for instance, the assump-


tion that the same spiritual substance or moral conscious-
ness is present in each human being. In other words, respect
for the majority was based on a conviction that did not it-
self depend on the resolutions of the majority. Locke still
spoke of natural reason's agreeing with revelation in regard
to human rights. 10 His theory of government refers to the
affirmations of both reason and revelation. They are sup-
posed to teach that men are T>y nature all free, equal, and
independent/ n

Locke's theory of knowledge is an example of that treach-
erous lucidity of style which unites opposites by simply
blurring the nuances. He did not care to differentiate too
clearly between sensual and rational, atomistic and structural
experience, nor did he indicate whether the state of nature
from which he derived the natural law was inferred by logi-
cal processes or intuitively perceived. However, it seems to
be sufficiently clear that freedom 'by nature' is not identical
with freedom in fact. His political doctrine is based on ra-
tional insight and deductions rather than on empirical

The same may be said of Locke's disciple, Rousseau.
When the latter declared that the renunciation of liberty is
against the nature of man, because thereby 'man's actions
would be deprived of all morality and his will deprived of
all liberty' M he knew very well that the renunciation of lib-
erty was not against the empirical nature of man; he himself
bitterly criticized individuals, groups, and nations for re-
nouncing their freedom. He referred to man's spiritual

10 Locke on Civil Government, Second Treatise, chap, v, Everyman's
Library, p. 129.

11 Ibid. chap, vm, p. 164.

12 Contrat social, vol. i, p. 4.


substance rather than to a psychological attitude. His
doctrine of the social contract is derived from a philosophi-
cal doctrine of man, according to which the principle of the
majority rather than that of power corresponds to human
nature as it is described in speculative thinking. In the
history of social philosophy even the term 'common sense'
is inseparably linked to the idea of self-evident truth. It
was Thomas Reid who, twelve years before the time of
Paine's famous pamphlet and the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, identified the principles of common sense with
self-evident truths and thus reconciled empiricism with
rationalistic metaphysics.

Deprived of its rational foundation, the democratic prin-
ciple becomes exclusively dependent upon the so-called
interests of the people, and these are functions of blind or
all too conscious economic forces. They do not offer any
guarantee against tyranny. 18 In the period of the free market
system, for instance, institutions based on the idea of human
rights were accepted by many people as a good instrument
for controlling the government and maintaining peace.
But if the situation changes, if powerful economic groups
find it useful to set up a dictatorship and abolish majority
rule, no objection founded on reason can be opposed

13 The anxiety of the editor of Tocqueville, in speaking of the negative
aspects of the majority principle, was superfluous (cf. Democracy in
America, New York, 1898, vol. i, pp. 334-5, note). The editor asserts that
'it is only a figure of speech to say that the majority of the people makes
the laws/ and among other things reminds us that this is done in fact by
their delegates. He could have added that if Tocqueville spoke of the
tyranny of the majority, Jefferson, in a letter quoted by Tocqueville, spoke
of 'the tyranny of the legislatures/ The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,
Definitive Edition, Washington, D. C., 1905, vol. vn, p. 312. Jefferson
was so suspicious of either department of government in a democracy,
'whether legislative or executive/ that he was opposed to maintenance of
a standing army. Cf. ibid. p. 323.


to their action. If they have a real chance of success, they
would simply be foolish not to take it. The only considera-
tion that could prevent them from doing so would be the
possibility that their own interests would be endangered,
and not concern over violation of a truth, of reason. Once
the philosophical foundation of democracy has collapsed,
the statement that dictatorship is bad is rationally valid
only for those who are not its beneficiaries, and there is no
theoretical obstacle to the transformation of this statement
into its opposite.

The men who made the Constitution of the United
States considered 'the fundamental law of every society, the
lex ma/oris partis/ 14 but they were far from substituting the
verdicts of the majority for those of reason. When they
incorporated an ingenious system of checks and balances in
the structure of government, they held, as Noah Webster
put it, that 'the powers lodged in Congress are extensive, but
it is presumed that they are not too extensive/ 15 He called
the principle of the majority 'a doctrine as universally re-
ceived as any intuitive truth" 16 and saw in it one among
other natural ideas of similar dignity. For these men there
was no principle that did not derive its authority from a
metaphysical or religious source. Dickinson regarded the
government and its trust as 'founded on the nature of man,
that is, on the will of his Maker and . . . therefore sacred.
It is then an offence against Heaven to violate that trust/ 1T

The majority principle in itself was certainly not consid-

14 Ibid. p. 324.

15 'An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Con-
stitution . . . / in Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States,
ed. by Paul L. Ford, Brooklyn, N. Y., 1888, p. 45.

18 IbicJ. p. 30.

17 Ibid. 'Letters of Fabius/ p. 181.


ered to be a guarantee of justice. 'The majority/ says John
Adams, 18 'has eternally and without one exception, usurped
over the rights of the minority/ These rights and all other
fundamental principles were believed to be intuitive truths.
They were taken over directly or indirectly from a philo-
sophical tradition that at the time was still alive. They can
be traced back through the history of Western thought to
their religious and mythological roots, and it is from these
origins that they had preserved the 'awfulness* that Dickin-
son mentions.

Subjective reason has no use for such inheritance. It re-
veals truth as habit and thereby strips it of its spiritual
authority. Today the idea of the majority, deprived of its
rational foundations, has assumed a completely irrational
aspect. Every philosophical, ethical, and political idea its
lifeline connecting it with its historical origins having been
severed has a tendency to become the nucleus of a new
mythology, and this is one of the reasons why the advance
of enlightenment tends at certain points to revert to super-
stition and paranoia. The majority principle, in the form of
popular verdicts on each and every matter, implemented by
all kinds of polls and modern techniques of communica-
tion, has become the sovereign force to which thought must
cater. It is a new god, not in the sense in which the heralds
of the great revolutions conceived it, namely, as a power of
resistance to existing injustice, but as a power of resistance
to anything that does not conform. The more the judgment
of the people is manipulated by all kinds of interests, the

18 Charles Beard, Economic Origin of /effersonian Democracy, New
York, 1915, p. 305. ''


more is the majority presented as the arbiter in cultural life.
It is supposed to justify the surrogates of culture in all its
branches, down to the mass-deceiving products of popular
art and literature. The greater the extent to which scientific
propaganda makes of public opinion a mere tool for obscure
forces, the more does public opinion appear a substitute for
reason. This illusory triumph of democratic progress con-
sumes the intellectual substance on which democracy has

Not only the guiding concepts of morals and politics,
such as liberty, equality, or justice, but all specific aims and
ends in all walks of life are affected by this dissociation of
human aspirations and potentialities from the idea of ob-
jective truth. According to current standards, good artists
do not serve truth better than good prison wardens or
bankers or housemaids. If we tried to argue that the calling
of an artist is nobler, we would be told that the contention
is meaningless that while the efficiency of two housemaids
can be compared on the basis of their relative cleanliness,
honesty, skill, et cetera, there is no way of comparing a
housemaid and an artist. However, thorough analysis would
show that in modern society there is one implicit yardstick
for art as well as for unskilled labor, namely time, for good-
ness in the sense of a specific efficiency is a function of time.

It may be just as meaningless to call one particular way of
living, one religion, one philosophy better or higher or truer
than another. Since ends are no longer determined in the
light of reason, it is also impossible to say that one eco-
nomic or political system, no matter how cruel and despotic,
is less reasonable than another. According to formalized


reason, despotism, cruelty, oppression are not bad in them-
selves; no rational agency would endorse a verdict against
dictatorship if its sponsors were likely to profit by it Phrases
like 'the dignity of man' either imply a dialectical advance
in which the idea of divine right is preserved and tran-
scended, or become hackneyed slogans that reveal their
emptiness as soon as somebody inquires into their specific
meaning. Their life depends, so to speak, on unconscious
memories. If a group of enlightened people were about to
fight even the greatest evil imaginable, subjective reason
would make it almost impossible to point simply to the
nature of the evil and to the nature of humanity, which
make the fight imperative. Many would at once ask what
the real motives are. It would have to be asserted that the
reasons are realistic, that is to say, correspond to personal in-
terests, even though, for the mass of the people, these latter
may be more difficult to grasp than the silent appeal of the
situation itself.

The fact that the average man still seems to be attached
to the old ideals might be held to contradict this analysis.
Formulated in general terms, the objection might be that
there is a force that outweighs the destructive effects of
formalized reason; namely, conformity to generally accepted
values and behavior. After all, there is a large number of
ideas that we have been taught to cherish and respect from
our earliest childhood. Since these ideas and all the theo-
retical views connected with them are justified not by reason
alone but also by almost universal consent, it would seem
that they cannot be affected by the transformation of reason
into a mere instrument. They draw their strength from our
reverence for the community in which we live, from men


who have given their lives for them, from the respect we owe
to the founders of the few enlightened nations of our time.
This objection actually expresses the weakness of the jus-
tification of allegedly objective content by past and present
reputation. If tradition, so often denounced in modern
scientific and political history, is now invoked as the measure
of any ethical or religious truth, this truth has already been
affected and must suffer from a lack of authenticity no less
acutely than the principle that is supposed to justify it In
the centuries in which tradition still could play the role of
evidence, the belief in it was itself derived from the belief
in an objective truth. By now, the reference to tradition
seems to have preserved but one function from those older
times: it indicates that the consensus behind the principle
that it seeks to reaffirm is economically or politically power-
ful. He who offends it is forewarned.

In the eighteenth century the conviction that man is en-
dowed with certain rights was not a repetition of beliefs that
were held by the community, nor even a repetition of beliefs
handed down by forefathers. It was a reflection of the situa-
tion of the men who proclaimed these rights; it expressed a
critique of conditions that imperatively called for change,
and this demand was understood by and translated into phil-
osophical thought and historical actions. The pathfinders of
modern thought did not derive what is good from the law
they even broke the law but they tried to reconcile the law
with the good. Their role in history was not that of adapting
their words and actions to the text of old documents or gen-
erally accepted doctrines: they themselves created the docu-
ments and brought about the acceptance of their doctrines.
Today, those who cherish these doctrines and are deprived


of an adequate philosophy may regard them either as ex-
pressions of mere subjective desires or as an established pat-
tern deriving authority from the number of people who be-
lieve in it and the length of time of its existence. The very
fact that tradition has to be invoked today shows that it has
lost its hold on the people. No wonder that whole nations
and Germany is not alone in this seem to have awakened
one morning only to discover that their most cherished
ideals were merely bubbles.

It is true that although the progress of subjective reason
destroyed the theoretical basis of mythological, religious,
and rationalistic ideas, civilized society has up until now
been living on the residue of these ideas. But they tend to
become more than ever a mere residue and are thus gradu-
ally losing their power of conviction. When the great reli-
gious and philosophical conceptions were alive, thinking
people did not extol humility and brotherly love, justice and
humanity because it was realistic to maintain such prin-
ciples and odd and dangerous to deviate from them, or be-
cause these maxims were more in harmony with their sup-
posedly free tastes than others. They held to such ideas be-
cause they saw in them elements of truth, because they con-
nected them with the idea of logos, whether in the form of
God or of a transcendental mind, or even of nature as an
eternal principle. Not only were the highest aims thought
of as having an objective meaning, an inherent significance,
but even the humblest pursuits and fancies depended on a
belief in the general desirability, the inherent value of their

Mythological, objective origins, as they are being de-
stroyed by subjective reason, do not merely pertain to great


universal concepts, but are also at the bottom of apparently
personal, entirely psychological behaviors and actions. They
are all down to the very emotions evaporating, as they
are being emptied of this objective content, this relation to
supposedly objective truth. As children's games and adults'
fancies originate in mythology, each joy was once related to
a belief in an ultimate truth.

Thorstein Veblen unveiled the distorted medieval motives
in nineteenth-century architecture. 19 He found the longing
for pomp and ornament to be a residue of feudal attitudes.
However, the analysis of so-called honorific waste leads to
the discovery not only of certain aspects of barbaric oppres-
sion surviving in modern social life and individual psychol-
ogy, but also of the continued operation of long-forgotten
lines of worship, fear, and superstition. They express them-
selves in the most 'natural' preferences and antipathies and
are taken for granted in civilization. Because of the appar-
ent lack of rational motive they become rationalized accord-
ing to subjective reason. The fact that in any modern cul-
ture 'high' ranks before low,' that the clean is attractive and
dirt repugnant, that certain smells are experienced as good,
others as disgusting, that certain kinds of food are cherished,
others abhorred, is due to old taboos, myths, and devotions
and to their fate in history, rather than to the hygienic or
other pragmatistic reasons that enlightened individuals or
liberal religions may try to put forward.

These old forms of life smoldering under the surface of
modern civilization still provide, in many cases, the warmth
inherent in any delight, in any love of a thing for its own

19 Cf. T. W. Adorno, 'Veblen's Attack on Culture/ in Studies in
Philosophy and Social Science, New York, 1941, vol. ix, pp. 392-3.


sake rather than for that of another thing. The pleasure of
keeping a garden goes back to ancient times when gardens
belonged to the gods and were cultivated for them. The
sense of beauty in both nature and art is connected, by a
thousand delicate threads, to these old superstitions. 20 If, by
either flouting or flaunting the threads, modern man cuts
them, the pleasure may continue for a while but its inner life
is extinguished.

We cannot credit our enjoyment of a flower or of the at-
mosphere of a room to an autonomous esthetic instinct
Man's esthetic responsiveness relates in its prehistory to
various forms of idolatry; his belief in the goodness or sacred-
ness of a thing precedes his enjoyment of its beauty. This
applies no less to such concepts as freedom and humanity.
What has been said about the dignity of man is certainly
applicable to the concepts of justice and equality. Such
ideas must preserve the negative element, as the negation
of the ancient stage of injustice or inequality, and at the
same time conserve the original absolute significance rooted
in their dreadful origins. Otherwise they become not only
indifferent but untrue.

All these cherished ideas, all the forces that, in addition
to physical force and material interest, hold society to-
gether, still exist, but have been undermined by the for-
malization of reason. This process, as we have seen, is

20 Even the penchant for tidiness, a modern taste par excellence, seems to
be rooted in the belief in magic. Sir James Frazer ( The Golden Bough,
vol. i, part i, p. 175) quotes a report on the natives of New Britain which
concludes that 'the cleanliness which is usual in the houses, and consists in
sweeping the floor carefully every day, is by no means based on a desire for
cleanliness and neatness in themselves, but purely on the effort to put out
of the way anything that might serve the ill-wisher as a charm/


connected with the conviction that our aims, whatever
they are, depend upon likes and dislikes that in themselves
are meaningless. Let us assume that this conviction really
penetrates the details of daily life and it has already pene-
trated deeper than most of us realize. Less and less is any-
thing done for its own sake. A hike that takes a man out of
the city to the banks of a river or a mountain top would be
irrational and idiotic, judged by utilitarian standards; he is
devoting himself to a silly or destructive pastime. In the
view of formalized reason, an activity is reasonable only if
it serves another purpose, e.g. health or relaxation, which
helps to replenish his working power. In other words, the
activity is merely a tool, for it derives its meaning only
through its connection with other ends.

We cannot maintain that the pleasure a man gets from a
landscape, let us say, would last long if he were convinced
a priori that the forms and colors he sees are just forms and
colors, that all structures in which they play a role are purely
subjective and have no relation whatsoever to any meaning-
ful order or totality, that they simply and necessarily express
nothing. If such pleasures have become habitual he may
go on enjoying them for the rest of his life, or he may never
fully realize the meaninglessness of the things he adores.
Our tastes are formed in early childhood; what we learn later
influences us less. The children may imitate the father who
was addicted to long walks, but if the f ormalization of reason
has progressed far enough, they will consider that they have
done their duty by their bodies if they go through a set of
gymnastics to the commands of a radio voice. No walk
through the landscape is necessary any longer; and thus the
very concept of landscape as experienced by a pedestrian


becomes meaningless and arbitrary. Landscape deteriorates
altogether into landscaping.

The French symbolists had a special term to express their
love for things that had lost their objective significance,
namely, 'spleen/ The conscious, challenging arbitrariness in
the choice of objects, its 'absurdity/ 'perverseness/ as if by a
silent gesture discloses the irrationality of utilitarian logic,
which it then slaps in the face in order to demonstrate its
inadequacy with regard to human experience. And while
making it conscious, by this shock, of the fact that it forgets
the subject, the gesture simultaneously expresses the sub-
ject's sorrow over his inability to achieve an objective

Twentieth-century society is not troubled by such incon-
sistencies. For it, meaning can be achieved in only one way
service for a purpose. Likes and dislikes that under mass
culture have become meaningless are either relegated under
the head of amusements, leisure-time activities, social con-
tacts, etc., or left to die out gradually. Spleen, the protest
of nonconformism, of the individual, has itself become regi-
mented: the obsession of the dandy turns into the hobby of
Babbitt. The idea of the hobby, of a 'good time/ or 'fun/
expresses no regret whatsoever for the vanishing of objective
reason and the stripping from reality of any inherent 'sense/
The person who indulges in a hobby does not even make
believe that it has any relation to ultimate truth. When
asked in a questionnaire to state your hobby, you put down
golf, books, photography, or what not, as unthinkingly as
you enter the figure of your weight. As recognized, ration-
alized predilections, considered necessary to keep people in
good humor, hobbies have become an institution. Even


stereotyped good humor, which is nothing better than a
psychological precondition of efficiency, may fade away to-
gether with all other emotions as soon as we lose the last
trace of recollection that it once was related to the idea of
divinity. Those who 'keep smiling* begin to look sad and
perhaps even desperate.

What has been said in regard to the smaller delights holds
true also for the higher aspirations in relation to achieving
the good and beautiful. Quick grasp of facts replaces intel-
lectual penetration of the phenomena of experience. The
child who knows Santa Glaus as an employee of a depart-
ment store and grasps the relation between sales figures and
Christmas, may take it as a matter of course that there is
an interaction between religion and business as a whole.
Emerson in his time observed it with considerable bitter-
ness: 'Religious institutions . . . have already acquired a
market value as conservators of property; if priests and
church members should not be able to maintain them the
chambers of commerce and the presidents of the banks, the
very innholders and landlords of the country, would muster
with fury to their support/ 21 Today such interconnections
as well as the heterogeneity of truth and religion are taken
for granted. The child learns early to be a good sport; he
may continue to play his role as a naive child, at the same
time naturally exhibiting his shrewder insight as soon as he
is alone with other boys. This kind of pluralism, which re-
sults from modern education with respect to all ideal prin-
ciples, democratic or religious, namely, from the fact that
they are referred strictly to specific occasions, universal as

21 The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Centenary Edition,
Boston and New York, 1903, vol. i, p. 321.


their meaning may be, makes for a schizophrenic trait in
modern life.

A work of art once aspired to tell the world what it is, to
formulate an ultimate verdict. Today it is completely
neutralized. Take, for example, Beethoven's Eroica sym-
phony. The average concertgoer today is unable to experi-
ence its objective meaning. He listens to it as though it
had been written to illustrate the program annotator's com-
ments. It is all set down in black and white the tension
between the moral postulate and social reality, the fact
that, in contrast to the situation in France, spiritual life in
Germany could not express itself politically but had to seek
an outlet in art and music. The composition has been
reified, made a museum piece, and its performance a leisure-
time occupation, an event, an opportunity for star perform-
ances, or a social gathering that must be attended if one
belongs to a certain group. But no living relation to the
work in question, no direct, spontaneous understanding of
its function as an expression, no experience of its totality as
an image of what once was called truth, is left. This reifica-
tion is typical of the subjectivization and formalization of
reason. It transforms works of art into cultural commodi-
ties, and their consumption into a series of haphazard emo-
tions divorced from our real intentions and aspirations. Art
has been severed from truth as well as politics or religion.

Reification is a process that can be traced back to the
beginnings of organized society and the use of tools. How-
ever, the transformation of all products of human activity
into commodities was achieved only with the emergence of
industrialist society. The functions once performed by ob-
jective reason, by authoritarian religion, or by metaphysics
have been taken over by the reifying mechanisms of the


anonymous economic apparatus. It is the price paid on the
market that determines the salability of merchandise and
thus the productiveness of a specific kind of labor. Activi-
ties are branded as senseless or superfluous, as luxuries, unless
they are useful or, as in wartime, contribute to the mainte-
nance and safeguarding of the general conditions under
which industry can flourish. Productive work, manual or
intellectual, has become respectable, indeed the only ac-
cepted way of spending one's life, and any occupation, the
pursuit of any end that eventually yields an income, is called

The great theoreticians of middle-class society, Machia-
velli, Hobbes, and others, called the feudal lords and medie-
val clergymen parasites because their ways of living de-
pended on but did not contribute directly to production.
The clergy and the aristocrats were supposed to devote their
lives respectively to God and to chivalry or amours. By their
mere existence and activities, they created symbols admired
and cherished by the masses. Machiavelli and his disciples
recognized that times had changed and showed how illusory
were the values of the things to which the old rulers had
devoted their time. Machiavelli has been followed through
down to the doctrine of Veblen. Today luxury is not ruled
out, at least not by the producers of luxury goods. However,
it finds its justification not in its own existence, but in the
opportunities it creates for commerce and industry. Lux-
uries are either adopted as necessities by the masses or re-
garded as a means of relaxation. Nothing, not even material
well-being, which has allegedly replaced the salvation of the
soul as man's highest goal, is valuable in and for itself, no
aim as such is better than another.

Modern thought has tried to make a philosophy out of


this view, as represented in pragmatism. 22 The core of this
philosophy is the opinion that an idea, a concept, or a theory
is nothing but a scheme or plan of action, and therefore
truth is nothing but the successfulness of tlie idea. In an
analysis of William James's Pragmatism, John Dewey com-
ments upon the concepts of truth and meaning. Quoting
James, he says: True ideas lead us into useful verbal and
conceptual quarters, as well as directly up to useful sensible
termini. They lead to consistency, stability, and flowing in-
tercourse/ An idea, Dewey explains, is 'a draft drawn upon
existing things and intention to act so as to arrange them in
a certain way. From which it follows that if the draft is
honored, if existences, following upon the actions, rearrange
or re-adjust themselves in the way the idea intends, the idea
is true/ ** If it were not for the founder of the school,
Charles S. Peirce, who has told us that he 'learned philos-
ophy out of Kant/ ** one might be tempted to deny any phil-
osophical pedigree to a doctrine that holds not that our
expectations are fulfilled and our actions successful because
our ideas are true, but rather that our ideas are true because
our expectations are fulfilled and our actions successful.

22 Pragmatism has been critically examined by many schools of thought,
e.g. from the standpoint of voluntarism by Hugo Miinsterberg in his
Philosophic der Werte, Leipzig, 1921,- from the standpoint of objective
phenomenology in the elaborate study of Max Scheler, 'Erkenntis und Arbeit'
in his Die Wissensformen und die Gesellschafr, Leipzig, 1926 (cf. par-
ticularly pp. 259-324); from the standpoint of a dialectical philosophy by
Max Horkheimer in 'Der Neueste Angriff auf die Metaphysik/ Zeitschrift
fur Sozialfofschung, 1937, v l- VI > PP- 4~53> an <* m Traditionelle und
Kritische Theorie/ ibid. pp. 245-94. The remarks in the text are intended
only to describe the role of pragmatism in the process of the subjectiviza-
tion of reason.

28 Essays in Experimental Logic, Chicago, 1916, pp. 310 and 317.

24 Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Cambridge, Mass., 1934,
vol. v, p. 274.


Indeed, it would be doing Kant an injustice to make him
responsible for this development. He made scientific insight
dependent upon transcendental, not upon empirical func-
tions. He did not liquidate truth by identifying it with the
practical actions of verification, nor by teaching that mean-
ing and effect are identical. He tried ultimately to establish
the absolute validity of certain ideas per se, for their own
sake. The pragmatistic narrowing of the field of vision re-
duces the meaning of any idea to that of a plan or draft.

Pragmatism has from its beginnings implicitly justified
the current substitution of the logic of probability for that
of truth, which has since become widely prevalent. For if
a concept or an idea is significant only by virtue of its con-
sequences, any statement expresses an expectation with a
higher or lower degree of probability. In statements con-
cerning the past, the expected events are the process of
corroboration, the production of evidence from human wit-
nesses or any kind of documents. The difference between
the corroboration of a judgment by the facts that it predicts,
and by the steps of inquiry that it may necessitate, is sub-
merged in the concept of verification. The dimension of
the past, absorbed by that of the future, is expelled from
logic. "Knowledge/ says Dewey, 25 'is always a matter of the
use that is made of experienced natural events, a use in
which given tilings are treated as indications of what will
be experienced under different conditions/ M

To this kind of philosophy prediction is the essence not
only of calculation but of all thinking as such. It does not

25 'A Recovery of Philosophy/ in Creative Intelligence: Essays in the
Pragmatic Attitude, New York, 1917, p. 47.

26 1 should at least say under the same or under similar conditions.


differentiate sufficiently between judgments that actually
express a prognosis e.g. Tomorrow it will rain' and those
that can be verified only after they have been formulated,
which is naturally true of any judgment. Present meaning
and future verification of a proposition are not the same
thing. The judgment that a man is sick, or that humanity
is in agony, is no prognosis, even if it can be verified in a
process subsequent to its formulation. It is not pragmatic,
even though it may bring about recovery.

Pragmatism reflects a society that has no time to remem-
ber and meditate.

The world is weary of the past,
Oh, might it die or rest at last.

Like science, philosophy itself 'becomes not a contemplative
survey of existence nor an analysis of what is past and done
with, but an outlook upon future possibilities with a refer-
ence to attaining the better and averting the worst. 27 Prob-
ability or, better, calculability replaces truth, and the his-
torical process that in society tends to make of truth an
empty phrase receives a blessing, as it were, from prag-
matism, which makes an empty phrase of it in philosophy.
Dewey explains what, according to James, is

the significance of an object: the meaning which should be con-
tained in its conception or definition. To attain perfect clear-
ness in our thoughts of an object, then we need only consider
what conceivable effects of a practical kind the object may in-
volve, what sensations we are to expect from it and what reac-
tions we must prepare/ or more shortly, as it is quoted from
[Wilhelm] Ostwald, 'all realities influence our practice, and
that influence is their meaning for us/
27 Ibid. p. 53.


Dewey does not see how anyone can doubt the import of
this theory, 'or ... accuse it of subjectivism or idealism,
since the object with its power to produce effects is as-
sumed/ M However, the subjectivism of the school lies in the
role that 'our' practices, actions, and interests play in its
theory of knowledge, not in its acceptance of a phenomenal-
istic doctrine. 2 * If true judgments on objects, and therewith
the concept of the object itself, rests solely on 'effects' upon
the subject's action, it is hard to understand what meaning
could still be attributed to the concept 'object/ According
to pragmatism, truth is to be desired not for its own sake
but in so far as it works best, as it leads us to something that
is alien or at least different from truth itself.

When James complained that the critics of pragmatism
'simply assume that no pragmatist can admit a genuinely
theoretic interest/ ** he was certainly right with regard to
the psychological existence of such an interest, but if one
follows his own advice 'to take the spirit rather than the
letter' 81 it appears that pragmatism, like technocracy, has
certainly contributed a great deal toward the fashionable
disrepute of that 'stationary contemplation' S2 which was
once the highest aspiration of man. Any idea of truth, even
a dialectical whole of thought, as it occurs in a living mind,
might be called 'stationary contemplation/ in so far as it is
pursued for its own sake instead of as a means to 'cdnsist-

28 Ibid. pp. 308-9.

29 Positivism and pragmatism identify philosophy with scientism. For
this reason pragmatism is viewed, in the present context, as a genuine ex-
pression of the positivistic approach. The two philosophies differ only in
that the earlier positivism professed phenomenalism, i.e. sensualistic

30 The Meaning of Truth, New York, 1910, p. 208.

31 Ibid. p. 180.

22 James, Some Problems of Philosophy, New York, 1924, p. 59.


ency, stability, and flowing intercourse/ Both the attack on
contemplation and the praise of the craftsman express the
triumph of the means over the end.

Long after Plato's time the concept of the Ideas still rep-
resented the sphere of aloofness, independence, and in a
certain sense even freedom, an objectivity that did not sub-
mit to 'our' interests. Philosophy, by preserving the idea of
objective truth under the name of the absolute, or in any
other spiritualized form, achieved the relativization of sub-
jectivity. It insisted on the difference in principle between
mundus sensibilis and mundus intelligifrilis, between the
image of reality as structured by man's intellectual and
physical tools of domination, by his interests and actions or
any kind of technical procedure, and a concept of an order
or hierarchy, of static or dynamic structure, that would do
full justice to things and nature. In pragmatism, pluralistic
as it may represent itself to be, everything becomes mere
subject matter and thus ultimately the same, an element in
the chain of means and effects. 'Test every concept by the
question "What sensible difference to anybody will its truth
make?" and you are in the best possible position for under-
standing what it means and for discussing its importance/ ss
Quite apart from the problems involved in the term 'any-
body/ it follows from this rule that the behavior of people
decides the meaning of a concept. The significance of God,
cause, number, substance, or soul consists, as James asserts,
in nothing but the tendency of the given concept to make
us act or think. If the world should reach a point at which
it ceases to care not only about such metaphysical entities
but also about murders perpetrated behind closed frontiers

33 Ibid. p. 82.


or simply in the dark, one would have to conclude that the
concepts of such murders have no meaning, that they rep-
resent no 'distinct ideas' or truths, since they do not make
any 'sensible difference to anybody/ How should anyone
react sensibly to such concepts if he takes it for granted that
his reaction is their only meaning?

What the pragmatist means by reaction is actually trans-
ferred to philosophy from the field of the natural sciences*
His pride is 'to think of everything just as everything is
thought of in the laboratory, that is, as a question of ex-
perimentation/ ** Peirce, who coined the name of the
school, declares that the procedure of the pragmatist

is no other than that experimental method by which all the
successful sciences (in which number nobody in his sense
would include metaphysics) have reached the degrees of cer-
tainty that are severally proper to them today; this experimental
method being itself nothing but a particular application of an
older logical rule -'By their fruits ye shall know them.' M

The explanation becomes more involved when he declares
that 'a conception, that is, the rational purport of a word
or other expression, lies exclusively in its conceivable bear-
ing upon the conduct of life" and that 'nothing that might
not result from experiment can have any direct bearing
upon conduct, if one can define accurately all the conceiv-
able experimental phenomena which the affirmation or de-
nial of a concept imply/ The procedure he recommends
will afford 'a complete definition of the concept, and there
is absolutely nothing more in it/ w He attempts to clear up

34 Peirce, op. tit p. 272.

35 Ibid. p. 317.

36 Ibid. p. 273.


the paradox in the supposedly obvious assurance that only
possible results from experiments can have direct bearing
upon human conduct, in the conditional sentence that
makes this view dependent on the accurate definition of 'all
the conceivable experimental phenomena' in any particular
case. But since the question of what the conceivable phe-
nomena may be must again be answered by experiment,
these sweeping statements on methodology seem to lead us
into serious logical difficulties. How is it possible to sub-
ject experimentation to the criterion of 'being conceivable/
if any concept that is to say, whatever might be conceiv-
abledepends essentially on experimentation?

While philosophy in its objectivistic stage sought to be
the agency that brought human conduct, including scien-
tific undertakings, to a final understanding of its own reason
and justice, pragmatism tries to retranslate any understand-
ing into mere conduct. Its ambition is to be itself nothing
else but practical activity, as distinct from theoretical in-
sight, which, according to pragmatistic teachings, is either
only a name for physical events or just meaningless. But a
doctrine that seriously attempts to dissolve the intellectual
categories such as truth, meaning, or conceptions into
practical attitudes cannot itself expect to be conceived in
the intellectual sense of the word; it can only try to function
as a mechanism for starting certain series of events. Accord-
ing to Dewey, whose philosophy is the most radical and con-
sistent form of pragmatism, his own theory 'means that
knowing is literally something which we do; that analysis
is ultimately physical and active; that meanings in their
logical quality are standpoints, attitudes, and methods of
behavior toward facts, and that active experimentation is


essential to verification.' 37 This, at least, is consistent, but
it abolishes philosophical thought while it still is philo-
sophical thought. The ideal pragmatistic philosopher would
be he who, as the Latin adage has it, remains silent.

In accordance with the pragmatisfs worship of natural
sciences, there is only one kind of experience that counts,
namely, the experiment. The process that tends to replace
the various theoretical ways to objective truth with the
powerful machinery of organized research is sanctioned by
philosophy, or rather is being identified with philosophy.
All things in nature become identical with the phenomena
they present when submitted to the practices of our labora-
tories, whose problems no less than their apparatus express
in turn the problems and interests of society as it is. This
view may be compared with that of a criminologist main-
taining that trustworthy knowledge of a human being can
be obtained only by the well-tested and streamlined ex-
amining methods applied to a suspect in the hands of
metropolitan police. Francis Bacon, the great precursor of
experimentalism, has described the method with youthful
frankness: 'Quemadmodum enim ingenium alicujus haud
bene noris aut probaris, nisi eum irritaveris;-neque Proteus
se in varias rerum facies vertere solitus est, nisi manicis arete
comprehensus; similit&r etiam Natura arte irritata et vexata
se clarius prodit, quam cum sibi libera permittitur/ **

87 Essays in Experimental Logic, p. 330.

38 T)e augmentis scientiarum/ lib. 11, cap. n, in The Works of Francis
Bacon, ed. by Basil Montague, London, 1827, vol. vm, p. 96. Tor like
as a man's disposition is never well known till he be crossed, nor Proteus
ever changed shapes till he was straightened and held fast, so the passages
and variations of nature cannot appear so fully in the liberty of nature as
in the trials and vexations of art/ Works of Francis Bacon, new edition,
vol. i, London, 1826, p. 78.


'Active experimentation" actually produces concrete an-
swers to concrete questions, as posed by the interests of
individuals, groups, or the community. It is not always the
physicist who adheres to this subjectivistic identification by
which answers determined by the social division of labor
become truth as such. The physicist's avowed role in mod-
ern society is to deal with everything as subject matter. He
does not have to decide about the meaning of this role.
Neither is he obliged to interpret so-called intellectual con-
cepts as purely physical events, nor to hypostatize his own
method as the only meaningful intellectual behavior. He
may even harbor the hope that his own findings will form
part of a truth that is not decided upon in a laboratory. He
may furthermore doubt that experimentation is the essential
part of his endeavor. It is rather the professor of philosophy,
trying to imitate the physicist in order to enroll his branch
of activity among 'all the successful sciences/ who deals
with thoughts as though they were things and eliminates
any other idea of truth than the one abstracted from stream-
lined domination of nature.

Pragmatism, in trying to turn experimental physics into
a prototype of all science and to model all spheres of intel-
lectual life after the techniques of the laboratory, is the
counterpart of modern industrialism, for which the factory
is the prototype of human existence, and which models all
branches of culture after production on the conveyor belt,
or after the rationalized front office. In order to prove its
right to be conceived, each thought must have an alibi, must
present a record of its expediency. Even if its direct use is
'theoretical/ it is ultimately put to test by the practical ap-


plication of the theory in which it functions. Thought must
be gauged by something that is not thought, by its effect on
production or its impact on social conduct, as art today is
being ultimately gauged in every detail by something that
is not art, be it box-office or propaganda value. However,
there is a noticeable difference between the attitude of the
scientist and the artist on the one hand, and that of the
philosopher on the other. The former still sometimes re-
pudiate the embarrassing 'fruits' of their efforts that become
their criteria in industrialist society, and break from the
control of conformity. The latter has made it his business
to justify the factual criteria as supreme. As a person, as &
political or social reformer, as a man of taste, he may oppose
the practical consequences of scientific, artistic, or religious
undertakings in the world as it is; his philosophy, however,
destroys any other principle to which he could appeal.

This comes to the fore in many ethical or religious dis-
cussions in pragmatist writings. They are liberal, tolerant,
optimistic, and quite unable to deal with the cultural
d6bcle of our days. Referring to a modern sect of his time
that he calls the 'mind-cure movement/ James says:

The obvious outcome of our total experience is that the world
can be handled according to many systems of ideas, and is so
handled by different men, and will each time give some char-
acteristic kind of profit, for which he cares, to the handler, while
at the same time some other kind of profit has to be omitted or
postponed. Science gives to all of us telegraphy, electric light-
ing, and diagnosis, and succeeds in preventing and curing a
certain amount of disease. Religion in the shape of mind-cure
gives to some of us serenity, moral poise, and happiness, and


prevents certain forms of disease as well as science does, or even
better in a certain class of persons. Evidently, then, the science
and the religion are both of them genuine keys for unlocking
the world's treasure-house to him who can use either of them
practically. 39

In face of the idea that truth might afford the opposite of
satisfaction and turn out to be completely shocking to hu-
manity at a given historical moment and thus be repudiated
by anybody, the fathers of pragmatism made the satisfaction
of the subject the criterion of truth. For such a doctrine
there is no possibility of rejecting or even criticizing any
species of belief that is enjoyed by its adherents. Prag-
matism may justly be used as a vindication even by such
sects as try to use both science and religion as 'genuine keys
for unlocking the world's treasure-house* in a more literal
sense of the word than James may have imagined.

Both Peirce and James wrote at a period when pros-
perity and harmony between social groups as well as nations
seemed at hand, and no major catastrophes were expected.
Their philosophy reflects with an almost disarming candor
the spirit of the prevailing business culture, the very same
attitude of 'being practical' as a counter to which philo-
sophical meditation as such was conceived. From the
heights of the contemporary successes of science they could
laugh at Plato, who, after p^senting his theory of colors,
goes on to say: 'H^ toweve^ ,\who should attempt to verify
all this by experiment worfd forget the difference of the
human and divine nature^ t For God only has the knowledge
and also the power which are able to combine many things
into one and again resolve the one into many. But no man

39 The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York, 1002, p. 120.


either is or ever will be able to accomplish either the one
or the other operation. 40

No more drastic refutation of a prognosis by history can
be imagined than the one suffered by Plato. Yet the tri-
umph of the experiment is only one aspect of the process.
Pragmatism, which assigns to anything and anybody the
role of an instrument not in the name of God or objective
truth, but in the name of whatever is practically achieved
by it asks scornfully what such expressions as 'truth itself/
or the good that Plato and his objectivistic successors left
undefined, can really mean. It might be answered that they
at least preserved the awareness of differences that prag-
matism has been invented to deny the difference between
thinking in the laboratory and in philosophy, and conse-
quently the difference between the destination of mankind
and its present course.

Dewey identifies fulfilment of the desires of people as
they are with the highest aspirations of mankind:

Faith in the power of intelligence to imagine a future which
is the projection of the desirable in the present, and to invent
the instrumentalities of its realization, is our salvation. And it
is a faith which must be nurtured and made articulate; surely
a sufficiently large task for our philosophy. 41

'Projection of the desirable in the present* is no solution.
Two interpretations of the concept are possible. First, it
may be taken to refer to the desires of people as they really
are, conditioned by the whole social system under which
they live a system that makes, it more than doubtful

40 Timaeus/ 68, in The Dialogues of Plato, trans, by B. Jowett, New
York, 1937, vol. n, p. 47.

41 'A Recovery of Philosophy/ in op. cit. pp. 68-9.


whether their desires are actually theirs. If these desires are
accepted in an uncritical way, not transcending their im-
mediate, subjective range, market research and Gallup polls
would be a more adequate means for ascertaining them than
philosophy. Of, second, Dewey somehow agrees to accept-
ing some kind of difference between subjective desire and
objective desirability. Such an admission would mark just
the beginning of critical philosophical analysis unless prag-
matism is willing, as soon as it faces this crisis, to surrender
and to fall back upon objective reason and mythology.

The reduction of reason to a mere instrument finally af-
fects even its character as an instrument. The anti-philo-
sophical spirit that is inseparable from the subjective con-
cept of reason, and that in Europe culminated in the totali-
tarian persecutions of intellectuals, whether or not they were
its pioneers, is symptomatic of the abasement of reason.
The traditionalist, conservative critics of civilization com-
mit a fundamental error when they attack modern intel-
lectualization without at the same time attacking the stulti-
fic^tion that is only another aspect of the same process. 'The
human intellect, which has biological and social origins, is
not an absolute entity, isolated and independent. It has
been declared to be so only as a result of the social division
of labor, in order to justify the latter on the basis of man's
natural constitution. The leading functions of production-
commanding, planning, organizing were contrasted as pure
intellect to the manual functions of production as lower, im-
purer form of work, the labor of slaves. It is not by accident
that the so-called Platonic psychology, in which the intellect
was for the first time contrasted with other human 'fac-
ulties/ particularly with the instinctual life, was conceived


on the pattern of the division of powers in a rigidly hier-
archic state.

Dewey * 2 is f ully conscious of this suspicious origin of the
concept of pure intellect, but he accepts the consequence of
reinterpreting intellectual as practical work, thus extolling
physical labor and rehabilitating instincts. He disregards
any speculative capacity of reason as distinct from existing
science. In reality, the emancipation of the intellect from
the instinctual life did not change the fact that its richness
and strength still depend on its concrete content, and it
must atrophy and shrink when its connections with this are
cut An intelligent man is not one who can merely reason
correctly, but one whose mind is open to perceiving objec-
tive contents, who is able to receive the impact of their es-
sential structures and to render it in human language; this
holds also for the nature of thinking as such, and for its
truth content. The neutralization of reason that deprives
it of any relation to objective content and of its power of
judging the latter, and that degrades it to an executive
agency concerned with the how rather than with the what,
transforms it to an ever-increasing extent into a mere dull
apparatus for registering facts. Subjective reason loses all
spontaneity, productivity, power to discover and assert new
kinds of content it loses its very subjectivity. Like a too
frequently sharpened razor blade, this 'instrument 7 becomes
too thin and in the end is even inadequate for mastering the
purely formalistic tasks to which it is limited. This parallels
the general social tendency to destruction of productive
forces, precisely in a period of tremendous growth of these

42 Human Nature or Conduct, New York, 1938, pp. 58-9.


Aldous Huxley's negative utopia expresses this aspect of
the formalization of reason, that is to say, its transformation
into stupidity. In it, the techniques of the brave new world,
and the intellectual processes connected with them, are
represented as tremendously refined. But the aims they
serve the stupid 'feelies' that allow one to feel a fur pro-
jected on a screen, the 'hypnopaedia' that inculcates the all-
powerful slogans of the system in sleeping children, the
artificial methods of reproduction that standardize and clas-
sify human beings even before they are born all these re-
flect a process taking place in thinking itself that leads to
a system of prohibition of thinking and that must end finally
in subjective stupidity, prefigured in the objective idiocy
of all life content. Thinking in itself tends to be replaced
by stereotyped ideas. These are on the one hand treated as
mere convenient instruments to be opportunistically aban-
doned or accepted, and on the other as objects of fanatic

Huxley attacks a monopolistic state-capitalist world or-
ganization that is under the aegis of a self-dissolving sub-
jective reason conceived as an absolute. But at the same
time this novel seems to oppose to the ideal of this stulti-
fying system a heroic metaphysical individualism that in-
discriminately condemns fascism and enlightenment, psy-
choanalysis and moving pictures, de-mythologization and
crude mythologies, and extols above all the cultured man,
untainted by total civilization and sure of his instincts,
or perhaps the skeptic. Thus Huxley unwittingly allies him-
self witlr the reactionary cultural conservatism that every-
whereand especially in Germany has paved the way to
the same monopolistic collectivism that he criticizes in the


name of the soul as opposed to the intellect In other words,
while the naive assertion of subjective reason has actually
produced symptoms 4S not unlike those described by Huxley,
the naive rejection of that reason in the name of a histor-
ically obsolete and illusory concept of culture and indi-
viduality leads to contempt of the masses, cynicism, reliance
on blind force; these in turn serve the rejected tendency.
Philosophy today must face the question whether thought
can remain master of itself in this dilemma and thus pre-
pare its theoretical resolution, or whether it is to content
itself with playing the part of empty methodology, deluded
apologetics, or a guaranteed prescription like Huxley's new-
est popular mysticism,, which fits as well in the brave new
world as any ready-made ideology.

43 An extreme example may be cited. Huxley invented 'death condition-
ing* i.e. children are brought into the presence of dying persons and are
fed sweets and stimulated to play games while they watch the process of
death. Thus they are made to associate pleasant ideas with death and to
lose their terror of it. Parents* Magazine for October 1944 contains an
article entitled 'Interview with a Skeleton/ It describes how five-year-old
children played with a skeleton 'in order to make their first acquaintance
with the inside working of the human body.

'You need bones to hold your skin up/ said Johnny, examining this

'He does not know he is dead/ Martudi said.



rriODAY there is almost general agreement that society has
JL lost nothing by the decline of philosophical thinking,
for a much more powerful instrument of knowledge has
taken its place, namely, modern scientific thought. It is
often said that all the problems that philosophy has tried to
solve are either meaningless or can be solved by modern
experimental methods. In fact, one of the dominant trends
in modem philosophy is to hand over to science the work
left undone by traditional speculation. Such a trend toward
the hypostatization of science characterizes all the schools
that are today called positivist. The following remarks are
not intended as a detailed discussion of this philosophy;
their only aim is to relate it to the present cultural crisis.

The positivists ascribe this crisis to a 'failure of nerve/
There are many faint-hearted intellectuals, they say, who,
professing to distrust scientific method, resort to other
methods of knowledge, such as intuition or revelation. Ac-
cording to the positivists, what we need is abundant confi-
dence in science. Of course they are not blind to the de-
structive uses to which science is put; but they claim that
such uses of science are perverted. Is this really so? The
objective progress of science and its application, technology,
do not justify the current idea that science is destructive



only when perverted and necessarily constructive when ade-
quately understood.

Science could surely be put to better uses. However, it is
not at all certain that the way of realization of the good
potentialities of science is the same as its present road. The
positivists seem to forget that natural science as they con-
ceive it is above all an auxiliary means of production, one
element among many in the social process. Hence, it is im-
possible to determine a priori what role science plays in the
actual advancement or retrogression of society. Its effect in
this respect is as positive or negative as is the function it
assumes in the general trend of the economic process.

Science today, its difference from other intellectual forces
and activities, its division into specific fields, its procedures,
contents, and organization, can be understood only in rela-
tion to the society for which it functions. Positivist phi-
losophy, which regards the tool 'science' as the automatic
champion of progress, is as fallacious as other glorifications
of technology. Economic technocracy expects everything
from the emancipation of the material means of production.
Plato wanted to make philosophers the masters; the tech-
nocrats want to make engineers the board of directors of
society. Positivism is philosophical technocracy. It specifies
as the prerequisite for membership in the councils of society
an exclusive faith in mathematics. Plato, a eulogist of mathe-
matics, conceived of rulers as administrative experts, en-
gineers of the abstract Similarly, the positivists consider
engineers to be philosophers of the concrete, since they
apply science, of which philosophy in so far as it is toler-
ated at all is merely a derivative. Despite all their dif-
ferences, both Plato and the positivists think that the way


to save humanity is to subject it to the rules and meth-
ods of scientific reasoning. The positivists, however, adapt
philosophy to science, i.e., to the requirements of practice
instead of adapting practice to philosophy. For them
thought, in the very act of functioning as ancilla adminis-
frationis, becomes the rector mundi.

A few years ago the positivist evaluation of the present
cultural crisis was presented in three articles that analyze
the issues at stake with great clarity. 1 Sidney Hook contends
that the present cultural crisis arises from 'a loss of con-
fidence in scientific method/ 2 He bewails the numerous in-
tellectuals who aim at a knowledge and a truth that are
not identical with science. He says they rely on self-
evidentness, intuition, Wesenserschauung, revelation, and
other doubtful sources of information, instead of doing
some honest research, experimenting, and drawing their
conclusions scientifically. He denounces the promoters of
all sorts of metaphysics, rebukes Protestant and Catholic
philosophies and their witting or unwitting alliances with
reactionary forces. Although he maintains a critical attitude
toward liberal economy, he advocates the 'tradition of the
free market in the world of ideas/ 2

John Dewey 3 attacks anti-naturalism, which has 'pre-
vented science from completing its career and fulfilling its
constructive potentialities/ Ernest Nagel, discussing 'maliti-

1 Sidney Hook, 'The New Failure of Nerve'; John Dewey, 'Anti-Natural-
ism in Extremis*; Ernest Nagel, 'Malicious Philosophies of Science';
Partisan Review, Jan.-Feb. 1943, x, i, pp. 2-57. Parts of these articles
are contained in Naturalism and the Human Spirit, edited by Y. H. Kri-
korian, Columbia University Press, 1944.

2 Op. cit. pp. 3-4.

3 'Anti-Naturalism in Extremis/ op. cit. p. 26.


ous philosophies/ refutes several specific arguments ad-
vanced by metaphysicians to deny that the logic of natural
science is a sufficient intellectual basis for moral attitudes.
These three polemic articles, like many other statements by
the authors, merit great respect for their uncompromising
stand against the various heralds of authoritarian ideologies.
Our critical remarks pertain strictly and exclusively to ob-
jective theoretical differences. But before analyzing the
positivist remedy, we shall discuss the cure proposed by
their opponents.

The positivist attack on certain scheming and artificial re-
vivals of obsolete ontologies is doubtless justified. The pro-
moters of these revivals, highly cultured as they may be, are
betraying the last remnants of Western culture by making
its rescue their philosophical business. Fascism revived old
methods of domination that under modern conditions have
proved unspeakably cruder than their pristine forms; these
philosophers revive authoritarian systems of thought that
under modern conditions prove infinitely more naive, ar-
bitrary, and untruthful than they were originally. Well-
meaning metaphysicians, by their semi-learned demonstra-
tions of the true, the good, and the beautiful as eternal values
of scholasticism, destroy the last bit of meaningfulness that
such ideas might have for independent thinkers tempted to
oppose the powers that be. Such ideas are nowadays pro-
moted as if they were commodities, while formerly they
were used to oppose the effects of commercial culture.

Today there is a general tendency to revive past theories
of objective reason in order to give some philosophical
foundation to the rapidly disintegrating hierarchy of gen-
erally accepted values. Along with pseudo-religious or half-


scientific mind cures, spiritualism, astrology, cheap brands
of past philosophies such as Yoga, Buddhism, or mysticism,
and popular adaptations of classical objectivistic philoso-
phies, medieval ontologies are recommended for modern
use. But the transition from objective to subjective reason
was not an accident, and the process of development of ideas
cannot arbitrarily at any given moment be reversed. If sub-
jective reason in the form of enlightenment has dissolved
the philosophical basis of beliefs that have been an essential
part of Western culture, it has been able to do so because
this basis proved to be too weak. Their revival, therefore, is
completely artificial: it serves the purpose of filling a gap.
The philosophies of the absolute are offered as an excellent
instrument to save us from the chaos. Sharing the fate of all
the doctrines, good or bad, that pass the tests of present-day
social mechanisms of selection, objectivistic philosophies be-
come standardized for specific uses. Philosophical ideas
serve the needs of religious or enlightened, progressive or
conservative groups. The absolute becomes itself a means,
objective reason a scheme for subjective purposes, general
as they may be.

Modern Thomists 4 occasionally describe their meta-
physics as a wholesome or useful supplement to pragma-
tism, and they are probably right. Indeed, philosophical
adaptations of established religions perform a function that
is useful for the powers that be: they transform the surviving
remnants of mythological thought into workable devices for
mass culture. The more these artificial renaissances strive to

4 This important metaphysical school includes some of the most re-
sponsible historians and writers of our day. The critical remarks here bear
exclusively on the trend by which independent philosophical thought is
being superseded by dogmatism.


keep intact the letter of the original doctrines, the more they
distort the original meaning, for truth is forged in an evolu-
tion of changing and conflicting ideas. Thought is faithful
to itself largely through being ready to contradict itself,
while preserving, as inherent elements of truth, the mem-
ory of the processes by which it was reached. The con-
servatism of modern philosophical revivals with respect to
cultural elements is self-delusion. Like modern religion,
neo-Thomists cannot help furthering the pragmatization
of life and the formalization of thought They contribute
to dissolving indigenous beliefs, and make faith a matter of

The pragmatization of religion, however blasphemous it
may appear in many respects as in the linking of religion
and hygiene is not merely the result of its adaptation to
the conditions of industrial civilization, but is rooted in the
very essence of any kind of systematic theology. Exploita-
tion of nature can be traced back to the first chapters of
the Bible. All creatures are to be subject to man. Only the
methods and manifestations of that subjection have
changed. But, while original Thomism could achieve its
goal of adapting Christianity to contemporary scientific and
political forms, neo-Thomism is in a precarious position.
Because the exploitation of nature depended in the Middle
Ages upon a relatively static economy, science in that era
was static and dogmatic. Its relationship with dogmatic
theology could be relatively harmonious, and Aristotelian-
ism was easily absorbed into Thomism. But such harmony
is impossible today, and the neo-Thomists' use of categories
such as cause, purpose, force, soul, entity, is necessarily
uncritical. While for Thomas these metaphysical ideas


represented scientific knowledge at its peak, their function
in modern culture has completely changed.

Unfortunately for the neo-Thomists, the concepts that
they claim to derive from their theological doctrines no
longer form the backbone of scientific thought. They can-
not integrate theology and contemporary natural science in
a hierarchical intellectual system, as Thomas did in emula-
tion of Aristotle and Boethius, because the findings of
modern science contradict the scholastic ordo and Aristote-
lian metaphysics too patently. Today no system of educa-
tion, not even the most reactionary, is permitted to look at
quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity as matters
apart from the main principles of thought. To bring their
standpoint into harmony with present-day natural science,
neo-Thomists must, therefore, invent all sorts of intellectual
gadgets. Their plight is reminiscent of the dilemma of
those astronomers who at the dawn of modern astronomy
tried to save the Ptolemaic system by adding to it the most
complicated auxiliary constructions, claiming that these pre-
served the system in spite of all changes.

Unlike their master, neo-Thomists do not take the pains
really to deduce the content of contemporary physics from
the cosmology of the Bible. The intricacies of the electronic
structure of matter, not to mention the theory of exploding
space, would indeed make the undertaking difficult. Thomas,
if he were living today, would probably be facing the issue
and would either condemn science for philosophical reasons
or else turn heretic; he would not be attempting a superficial
synthesis of incompatible elements. But his epigoni cannot
take such a stand: the latest dogmatists must negotiate be-
tween heavenly and earthly, ontological and logico-em-


piricist physics. Their method is to agree in abstracto that
even non-ontological descriptions may have a certain degree
of truth, or to attribute rationality to science in so far as it is
mathematical, or to make similar doubtful concordats in the
philosophical realm. By this procedure ecclesiastical philos-
ophy gives the impression that modern physical science is
integrated into its perennial system, whereas this system is
merely an obsolete form of the very theory it claims to inte-
grate. Indeed, this system is patterned after the same ideal
of domination as scientific theory. There is the same under-
lying purpose of mastering reality, not at all of criticizing it

The social function of these revivals of systems of ob-
jectivist philosophy, religion, or superstitions, is to recon-
cile individual thinking to modern forms of mass manipula-
tion. In this respect the effects of the philosophical revival
of Christianity are not so different from those of the revival
of heathen mythology in Germany. The remnants of Ger-
man mythology were a force for covert resistance to bour-
geois civilization. Under the surface of the consciously ac-
cepted dogma and order, old pagan memories smoldered as
a folk creed. They had inspired German poetry, music, and
philosophy. Once rediscovered and manipulated as ele-
ments of mass education, their antagonism to the prevailing
forms of reality died out, and they became tools of modem

Something analogous is being done to Catholic tradition
by the neo-Thomist campaign. Like the German neo-
pagans, the neo-Thomists are streamlining old ideologies,
trying to adapt them to modern purposes. By doing so they
compromise with existing evil, as established churches have
always done. At the same time they unwittingly dissolve the


last remnants of that spirit of binding faith which they are
trying to promote. They formalize their own religious ideas
in order to adjust them to reality. Necessarily they are more
interested in stressing the abstract justification of religious
doctrines than their specific content This brings clearly to
light the dangers that threaten religion through the formali-
zation of reason. Unlike missionary work in the traditional
sense, the neo-Thomist teachings consist less of Christian
stories and dogmas than of arguments about why religious
beliefs and modes of living are advisable in our present situa-
tion. Such a pragmatic approach, however, actually affects
the religious concepts that they appear to leave untouched.
The neo-Thomist ontology, made to order, rots the core of
the ideas it proclaims. The religious end is perverted to a
mundane means. Neo-Thomism is little concerned with
belief in the Mater dolorosa for her own sakea religious
concept that has been the inspiration of so much great
European art and poetry. It concentrates on belief in belief
as a good remedy for today's social and psychological diffi-

To be sure, there is no lack of exegetic efforts devoted, for
instance, to the 'wisdom that is Mary/ But there is some-
thing artificial in these efforts. Their forced na'ivet6 is in
contrast to the general process of formalization, which they
take for granted, and which is ultimately rooted in religious
philosophy itself. Even the writings of medieval Christian-
ism, from early patristic days on, particularly those of
Thomas Aquinas, show a strong disposition to formalize the
basic elements of Christian faith. This tendency may be
traced back to so august a precedent as the identification of
Christ with logos, at the beginning of the fourth Gospel.


The genuine experiences of the early Christians have been
subordinated to rational purposes throughout the history of
the Church. The work of Thomas Aquinas marked a decisive
phase in this development Aristotelian philosophy, with its
inherent empiricism, had become more timely than Platonic

From the very beginning of ecclesiastical history, en-
lightenment was by no means extraneous to the church or
driven into the limbo of heresy, but took its course largely
within the church. Thomas helped the Catholic Church to
absorb the new scientific movement by reinterpreting the
contents of Christian religion by the liberal methods of
analogy, induction, conceptual analysis, deduction from
allegedly evident axioms, and through the use of Aristotelian
categories, which at his time still corresponded to the level
reached by empirical science. His tremendous conceptual
apparatus, his philosophical build-up of Christianity, gave
religion an appearance of autonomy that made it for a long
time independent of and yet compatible with the intellectual
progress of urban society. He made the Catholic doctrine
a most valuable tool for princes and the burgher class.
Thomas was indeed successful. For succeeding centuries
society was willing to entrust the clergy with the administra-
tion of that highly developed ideological instrument. -

However, despite its ideological processing of religion,
medieval scholasticism did not turn religion into mere
ideology. Although according to Thomas Aquinas the ob-
jects of religious faith, such as the Trinity, cannot be at the
same time objects of science, his work, siding with Aristotle
against Platonism, opposed the efforts to, conceive the two
realms as being altogether heterogeneous. To him the truths


of religion were as concrete as any scientific truth. Such
undisturbed confidence in the realism of the rational
scholastic apparatus was shattered by the Enlightenment.
Thomism has since become a theology with a bad con-
science, as is clearly revealed by the twists of its modern
philosophical versions. Today its sponsors are obliged to
ponder cautiously how much of scientifically doubtful as-
sertions people may still be willing to swallow. They seem
to be aware that the inductive methods of reasoning still
important in Aristotelian orthodoxy must be left exclusively
to secular research, in order to keep theology strictly aloof
from embarrassing investigations. If Thomism is artificially
kept from entering into conflict or even interaction with
modern science, both intellectuals and the uneducated can
accept religion as Thomism promotes it.

The more neo-Thomism withdraws into the realm of
spiritual concepts, the more it becomes a servant of profane
aims. In politics it can be made a sanction of all kinds of
undertakings, and in daily life a ready medicine. Hook and
his friends are right in contending that in view of the am-
biguous theoretical foundations of its dogmas, it is solely a
matter of time and geography whether they are used to
justify democratic or authoritarian policies.

Neo-Thomism, like any other dogmatic philosophy, tries
to stop thinking at a certain point, in order to create a
preserve for some supreme being or value, be it political or
religious. The more dubious these absolutes becomeand
in the era of formalized reason they have become dubious
indeed the more staunchly do their partisans defend them,
and the less scrupulous are they about promoting their
cults by other than purely intellectual means by resort, if


necessary, to the sword as well as the pen. Because the
absolutes are unconvincing on their own merits, they must
be vindicated by some kind of up-to-date theory. The effort
toward such vindication is reflected in an almost spasmodic
desire to exclude any ambiguous trait, any element of evil
from the concept thus glorified a desire that is, in
Thomism, difficult to reconcile with the negative prophetic
vision of the damned, who must suffer tortures *ut de his
electi gaudeant, cum in his Dei justitiam contemplantur,
et dum se evasisse eas cognoscunt/ 5 Today the urge to
establish an absolute principle as a real power, or a real
power as the absolute principle, persists; only if the supreme
value is at the same time the supreme power, it would seem,
can it be regarded as truly absolute.

This identity of goodness, perfection, power, and reality
is inherent in traditional European philosophy. Always the
philosophy of groups that held or strove for power, it is
clearly stated in Aristotelianism and forms the backbone of
Thomism despite the latter's truly profound doctrine that
the being of the absolute can be called being only by
analogy. While according to the Gospel God suffered and
died, he is according to the philosophy of Thomas 6 in-
capable of suffering or change. By means of this doctrine,
official Catholic philosophy tried to escape the contradic-
tion between God as ultimate truth and as a reality. It con-
ceived of a reality that has no negative element and that is
not being subject to change. Thus the Church was able to

5 Summa theologica, pt. 3, suppl. 'Because the elect rejoice therein
when they see God's justice in them, and realize that they have escaped
them/ Thomas Aquinas, Literary translation by the Fathers of the English
Dominican Province, vol. 21, London, 1922, p. 204.

6 Surnma contra Gentiles, i, 16.


maintain the idea of eternal natural law founded on the
basic structure of being, an idea so essential in Western
culture. But the renunciation of a negative element in the
absolute, and the resultant dualismGod on the one hand,
and a sinful world on the other implied an arbitrary sacri-
fice of the intellect By this the Church prevented the de-
terioration of religion and its replacement by a pantheistic
deification of historical process. It avoided the dangers of
German and Italian mysticism, as inaugurated by Master
Eckhart, Nicolaus Cusanus, and Giordano Bruno, which
tried to overcome the dualism by unshackled thought.

Their recognition of the earthly element in God proved
to be a stimulus to physical science whose subject matter
seemed to be vindicated and even sanctified by this inclusion
in the absolute but detrimental to religion and intellectual
poise. Mysticism started out to make God dependent upon
man as man depended upon God, and ended logically in
the announcement of God's death. Thomism, however,
held intelligence under a rigid discipline. It stopped
thought in the face of isolated and therefore contradictory
concepts God and world, which were mechanically con-
nected by a static and ultimately irrational hierarchical sys-
tem. The very idea of God becomes self-contradictory: an
entity that is supposed to be absolute yet does not include

The adversaries of neo-Thomism justly point out that dog-
matism sooner or later brings thought to a standstill. But is
not the neo-positivist doctrine as dogmatic as the glorifica-
tion of any absolute? They try to make us accept *a scientific
or experimental philosophy of life in which all values are
tested by their causes and consequences/ 7 They confer

7 Hook, op. cit. p. 10.


responsibility for the present intellectual crisis upon 'the
limitation of the authority of science, and the institution
of methods other than those of controlled experimentation
for discovering the natures and values of things/ 8 To read
Hook, one would never imagine that such enemies of man-
kind as Hitler have actually any great confidence in scientific
methods, or that the German ministry of propaganda con-
sistently used controlled experimentation, testing all values
'by their causes and consequences/ Like any existing creed,
science can be used to serve the most diabolical social
forces, and scientism is no less narrow-minded than militant
religion. Mr. Nagel merely betrays the intolerance of his
doctrine when he states that any effort to limit the authority
of science is obviously malicious.

Science enters upon doubtful ground when it lays claim to
a censorial power the exercise of which on the part of other
institutions it denounced in its revolutionary past. Anxiety
lest scientific authority be undermined has seized scholars at
the very time when science has become generally accepted
and even tends to be repressive. The positivists would dis-
criminate against any kind of thought that does not conform
perfectly to the postulate of organized science. They trans-
fer the principle of the closed shop to the world of ideas.
The general monopolistic trend goes so far as to engulf the
theoretical concept of truth. This trend and the concept of
a "free market in the world of ideas' advocated by Hook are
not as antagonistic as he thinks. Both reflect a businesslike
attitude toward matters of the spirit, a preoccupation with

Far from excluding competition, industrialists culture
has always organized research on a competitive basis. At

8 Nagel, 'Malicious Philosophies of Science/ op. cit. p. 41.


the same time this research is strictly supervised and made
to conform to established patterns. Here we see how com-
petitive and authoritative control work hand in hand. Such
co-operation is sometimes useful for a limited purposefor
instance, in the production of the best baby foods, super-
explosives, and propaganda methods; but one could hardly
claim that it contributes to the progress of real thought.
There is no clear-cut distinction between liberalism and
authoritarianism in modern science. In actual fact, liberal-
ism and authoritarianism tend to interact in a way that helps
to vest an ever more rigid rational control in the institutions
of an irrational world.

Despite its protest against being accused of dogmatism,
scientific absolutism, like the 'obscurantism' it assails, must
fall back on self-evident principles. The sole difference is
that neo-Thomism is aware of such presuppositions, while
positivism is completely naive about them. What matters
is not so much that a theory may rest on self-evident prin-
ciplesone of the most intricate of logical problems as that
neo-positivism practices the very thing for which it attacks
its adversaries. As long as it maintains this attack, it must
justify its own ultimate principles, the most important of
which is that of the identity of truth and science. It must
make clear why it recognizes certain procedures as scientific.
This is the philosophical issue that will decide whether
confidence in scientific method/ Hook's solution of the
current menacing situation, is a blind belief or a rational

The three articles in question do not go into this problem.
But there are some indications of how the positivists would
solve it. Mr. Hook points to one difference between scien-


tific and unscientific statements. The validity of the latter,
he says, is decided by personal feelings, while that of scien-
tific judgments 'is established by methods of public veri-
fication open to all who submit themselves to its dis-
ciplines/ 9 The term 'discipline' denotes the rules codified
in the most advanced manuals and successfully used by
scientists in laboratories. Certainly these procedures are
typical of contemporary ideas about scientific objectivity.
The positivists, however, seem to confuse such procedures
with truth itself. Science should expect philosophical
thought, as put forward by either philosophers or scientists,
to account for the nature of truth rather than simply to
boost scientific methodology as the ultimate definition of
truth. Positivism dodges the issue by contending that
philosophy is merely the classification and formalization of
scientific methods. The postulates of semantic criticism,
like the postulate of relatedness or the principle of the
reduction of complicated statements to elementary proposi-
tions, are presented as such formalization. By denying an
autonomous philosophy and a philosophical concept of
truth, positivism hands science over to the hazards of his-
torical developments. Because science is an element of the
social process, its investiture as jtiMt^^eritatfs would make
truth itself subject to changing social standards. Society
would be deprived of any intellectual means of resistance
to a bond that social critiques have always denounced.

It is true that even in Germany, the notion of Nordic
mathematics, physics, and similar nonsense played a greater
role in political propaganda than in the universities; but
this was due to the momentum of science itself and to the

9 Hook, op. cit. p. 6.


requirements of German armament rather than to any at-
titude of positivist philosophy, which after all reflects the
character of science at a given historical stage. If organized
science had yielded completely to the Nordic requirements,
and had accordingly crystallized a consistent methodology,
positivism would eventually have had to accept it, just as
elsewhere it has accepted the patterns of empirical sociology
shaped by administrative needs and conventional restric-
tions. By compliantly making science the theory of phi-
losophy, positivism disavows the spirit of science itself.

Hook says that his philosophy 'does not rule out on a
priori grounds the existence of supernatural entities and
forces/ 10 If we take this admission seriously, we may expect,
under certain circumstances, the resurrection of exactly the
same entities, or rather spirits, whose exorcism is the core
of scientific thinking as a whole. Positivism would have to
consent to such a relapse into mythology.

Dewey indicates another way of differentiating the science
that is to be accepted from the science that is to be con-
demned: 'the naturalist ("naturalism" is used to differen-
tiate the various positivistic schools from the protagonists
of supfenaturalism) is one who of necessity has respect for
the conclusions of natural science/ n Modern positivists
seem inclined to accept the natural sciences, primarily
physics, as the model for correct methods of thinking. Per-
haps Mr. Dewey gives the main motive for this irrational
predilection when he writes: 'Modern methods of experi-
mental observation have wrought a profound transforma-
tion in the subject matters of astronomy, physics, chemistry

10 Ibid. p. 7.

11 Dewey, op. cit. p. 26.


and biology* and 'the change wrought in them has exer-
cised the deepest influence upon human relations/ ** It is
true that science, like a thousand other factors, has played
a role in bringing about good or evil historical changes; but
this does not prove that science is the sole power by which
humanity can be saved. If Dewey means to say that scien-
tific changes usually cause changes in the direction of a bet-
ter social order, he misinterprets the interaction of eco-
nomic, technical, political, and ideological forces. The death
factories in Europe cast as much significant light on the
relations between science and cultural progress as does the
manufacture of stockings out of air.

The positivists reduce science to the procedures employed
in physics and its branches; they deny the name of science
to all theoretical efforts not in accord with what they abstract
from physics as its legitimate methods. It must be ob-
served here that the division of all human truth into science
and humanities is itself a social product that was hypos-
tatized by the organization of the universities and ulti-
mately by some philosophical schools, particularly those of
Rickert and Max Weber. The so-called practical world has
no place for truth, and therefore splits it to conform it to
its own image: the physical sciences are endowed with so-
called objectivity, but emptied of human content; the
humanities preserve the human content, but only as ideol-
ogy, at the expense of truth.

The dogmatism of the positivists becomes obvious if we
scrutinize the ultimate legitimation of their principle,
although they might consider such an attempt completely
devoid of sense. The positivists object that Thomists and

12 Ibid. p. 26.


all other non-positivist philosophers use irrational means,
especially intuitions not controlled by experimentation.
Conversely, they claim that their own insights are scientific,
holding that their cognition of science is based upon the
observation of science; that is, they claim that they treat
science in the same way as science treats its own objects by
experimentally verifiable observation. But the crucial ques-
tion is: How is it possible to determine what justly may be
called science and truth, if the determination itself pre-
supposes the methods of achieving scientific truth? The
same vicious circle is involved in any justification of scientific
method by the observation of science: How is the principle
of observation itself to be justified? When a justification is
requested, when someone asks why observation is the proper
guarantee of truth, the positivists simply appeal to observa-
tion again. But their eyes are closed. Instead of interrupting
the machine-like functioning of research, the mechanisms
of fact-finding, verification, classification, et cetera, and re-
flecting on their meaning and relation to truth, the positivists
reiterate that science proceeds by observation and describe
circumstantially how it functions. Of course they will say
that it is not their concern to justify or prove the principle
of verification that they merely want to talk scientific sense.
In other words, in refusing to verify their own principle
that no statement is meaningful unless verified they are
guilty of getitio_nncigi^ begging the question.

Doubtless the logical fallacy at the very root of the
positivist attitude merely betrays its worship of institution-
alized science. Nevertheless, it should not be ignored, since
the positivists always boast of the neatness and logical purity
of their statements. The impasse into which the ultimate


justification of the positivist principle of empirical veri-
fication leads is an argument against the positivists only be-
cause they dub every other philosophical principle dogmatic
and irrational. While other dogmatists at least try to justify
their principles on the basis of what they call revelation,
intuition, or primary evidence, the positivists try to avoid
the fallacy by using such methods naively and denouncing
those who practice them deliberately*

Certain methodologists of natural science claim that the
basic axioms of a science can and should be arbitrary. But
this does not hold when the meaning of science and truth
itself, by which this claim should be justified, is at stake.
Even the positivists cannot take for granted what they want
to prove, unless they cut short all discussion by declaring
that those who do not see are not blessed with grace, which
in their language might read: Ideas that do not fit in with
symbolic logic have no sense. If science is to be the au-
thority that stands firm against obscurantism and in de-
manding this the positivists continue the great tradition
of humanism and the Enlightenment philosophers must set
up a criterion for the true nature of science. Philosophy
must formulate the concept of science in a way that ex-
presses human resistance to the threatening relapse into
mythology and madness, rather than further such a relapse
by formalizing science and conforming it to the require-
ments of the existing practice. To be the absolute authority,
science must be justified as an intellectual principle, not
merely deduced from empirical procedures and then made
absolute as truth on the basis of dogmatic criteria of
scientific success.

At a certain point, science may conceivably go beyond


the method of experimentation. The worth of all the subtle
modern positivist volumes dealing with the logical structure
of science would then be challenged because their meaning
is strictly empirical. Positivists rely on the successes of
science as a justification of their own methods. They do
not care to found their own recognition of scientific
methods, such as experimentation, on intuition or any
principle that could be turned against science as it is suc-
cessfully practiced and socially accepted. The logical ap-
paratus in itself, to which some positivists point as a prin-
ciple different from empiricism, cannot be invoked here,
for the guiding logical principles are by no means considered
to be self-evident. They represent, as Dewey states, in
agreement with Peirce, 'conditions which have been as-
certained during the conduct of continued inquiry to be
involved in its own successful pursuit/ 1S These principles
'are derived from examination of methods previously
used/ 14 One cannot see how philosophy justifies the idea
that these principles 'are operationally a priori with respect
to further inquiry/ 15 or to what extent data derived from
observations can be used to oppose illusions claiming to be
truth. In positivism, logic, as formalistically as it may be
conceived, is derived from empirical procedures, and the
schools that call themselves empiriocriticism or logical
empiricism prove to be true varieties of old sensualistic
empiricism. What has been consistently maintained with
regard to empiricism by thinkers so antagonistic in their
opinions as Plato and Leibniz, De Maistre, Emerson, and
Lenin, holds for its modern followers.
Empiricism abolishes the principles by which science and

18 Logic, p. 11. w lbid. p. 13. 15 Ibid. p. 14.


empiricism itself could possibly be justified. Observation in
itself is not a principle, but a pattern of behavior, a modus
procedendj, which at any time may lead to its own abolition.
If at any time science should change its methods, and if
observation, as it is practiced today, were no longer ob-
servable, it would be necessary to modify the 'philosophical'
principle of observation and revise philosophy accordingly,
or to uphold this principle as an irrational dogma. Jhis
weakness of positivism is covered by the positivists* implicit
assumption that the^ggneraijeiBEiligl procedures losed by
science correspond naturally to reason wfi fmt-T| u This
optimistic belief is perfectly legitimate for any scientist
engaged in actual, non-philosophical research, but for a
philosopher it seems the self-delusion of a naive absolutism.
In a way, even the irrational dogmatism of the church is
more rational than a rationalism so ardent that it overshoots
its own rationality. An official body of scientists, according!!
to positivist theory, is more independent of reason than tha,
college of cardinals, since the latter must at least refer to*
the Gospels.

The positivists say on the one hand that science should
speak for itself, and on the other that science is a mere tool,
and tools are inarticulate, however overwhelming their
achievements. Whether the positivists like it or not, the
philosophy they teach consists of ideas and is more than a
tool. According to their philosophy, words, instead of having
meaning, have only function. The paradox that tfreir

as its meaning could Jndped

seweag jinjgcggnyinning for dialectical thought. But
atjhis veryjgo^ Jheii^^ Dewey seems to

sense this weakness when he states: 'Until naturalists have


applied their principles and methods to formulation of such
topics as mind, consciousness, self, etc., they will be at a
serious disadvantage/ 15 It is an empty promise that some
day positivism will solve the essential problems it has been
too busy to solve up to now. Not by accident has positivism,
after some straightforward declarations by Carnap and
others in the direction of crude materialism, acquired a
certain reluctance to tackle such delicate matters. The very
methodological and theoretical structure of neo-positivism
precludes doing justice to the problems indicated by 'such
topics as mind, consciousness, self, etc/ The positivists have
no right to look down on intuitionism. These two an-
tagonistic schools suffer from the same disability: at a
certain point both block critical thinking by authoritarian
statements, whether about the supreme intelligence or
about science as its surrogate.

Both positivism and neo-Thomism are limited truths,
ignoring the contradiction inherent in their principles. Con-
sequently, both try to assume a despotic role in the realm of
thought. The positivists overlook the fact that their de-
ficiency is fundamental, and attribute their ineffectiveness in
the face of the present intellectual crisis to certain minor
omissionsfor instance, to their failure to offer a plausible
theory of value. Hook asserts 'the competence of scientific
inquiry to evaluate' the claims of vested interests in social
life, of inequitable privilege, of anything that is put forward
as 'a national class or racial truth/ 17 He wants the values to
be tested. Nagel likewise declares that 'all the elements of
scientific analysis, observation, imaginative reconstruction,

16 'Anti-Naturalism in Extremis/ p. 28.

17 Op. cit. p. 5.


dialectic elaboration of hypotheses, and experimental veri-
ficationmust be employed/ 1S He probably has in mind
the testing of the 'causes and consequences' of values re-
ferred to by Hook, and means that we should know exactly
why we want something and what will happen if we go after
it that ideals and credos should be examined carefully to
see what would happen if they were put into practice. This
became the function of science with respect to values as
defined by Max Weber, a positivist at heart. Weber, how-
ever, differentiated sharply between scientific knowledge
and values, and did not believe that experimental science
could itself overcome social antagonisms and politics. But
it is quite in line wtih the ideas of positivism to reduce what
eludes it as Values' to facts, and to represent things of the
spirit as reified, as a kind of special commodity or cultural
good. Independent philosophical thinking, critical and
negative as it is, should rise above both the concept of values
and the idea of the absolute validity of facts.

The positivists only superficially escape the failure of
nerve. They profess confidence. What Dewey calls organ-
ized intelligence, they feel, is the only agency that will be
able to settle the problem of social stability or revolution.
This optimism, however, actually conceals a greater political
defeatism than the pessimism of Weber, who hardly believed
that the interests of social classes could be reconciled by

Modern science, as positivists understand it, refers es-
sentially to statements about facts, and therefore pre-
supposes the reification of life in general and of perception
in particular. It looks upon the world as a world of facts

18 Op. dtp. 57-


and things, and fails to connect the transformation of the
world into facts and things with the social process. The
very concept of 'fact' is a product a product of social
alienation; in it, the abstract object of exchange is con-
ceived as a model for all objects of experience in the given
category. The task of critical reflection is not merely to
understand the various facts in their historical development
and even this has immeasurably wider implications than
positivist scholasticism has ever dreamed of but also to see
through the notion of fact itself, in its development and
therefore in its relativity. The so-called facts ascertained
by quantitative methods, which the positivists are inclined
to regard as the only scientific ones, are often surface phe-
nomena that obscure rather than disclose the underlying
reality. A concept cannot be accepted as the measure of
truth if the ideal of truth that it serves in itself presupposes
social processes that thinking cannot accept as ultimates.
The mechanical cleavage between origin and thing is one of
the blind spots of dogmatic thinking, and to remedy it is
one of the most important tasks of a philosophy that does
not mistake the congealed form of reality for a law of truth.
By its identification of cognition with science, positivism
restricts intelligence to functions necessary to the organiza-
tion of material already patterned according to that very
commercial culture which intelligence is called upon to
criticize. Such restriction makes intelligence the servant of
the apparatus of production, rather than its master, as Hook
and his fellow positivists would like it to be. The content,
methods, and categories of science are not above social con-
flicts, nor are these conflicts of such a nature that people
would agree to unconfined experimentation with respect to


basic values just in order to straighten them out. Only
under ideally harmonious conditions could progressive
historical changes be brought about by the authority of
science. Positivists may be well aware of this fact, but they
do not face the corollary that science has a relative function,
determined by philosophical theory. The positivists are
just as over-idealistic in their judgment of social practice
as they are over-realistic in their contempt of theory. If
theory is reduced to a mere instrument, all theoretical means
of transcending reality become metaphysical nonsense. By
the same distortion, reality, thus glorified, is conceived as
devoid of all objective character that might, by its inner
logic, lead to a better reality.

As long as society is what it is, it seems more helpful and
honest to face the antagonism between theory and practice
than to obscure it by the concept of an organized intelligence
at work. This idealistic and irrational hypostatization is
closer to the Weltgeist of Hegel than his captious critics
think. Their own absolute science is made to look like
truth, while in fact science is only an element of truth. In
positivist philosophy science has even more traits of a holy
spirit than the Weltgeist, which, following the tradition of
German mysticism, explicitly includes all the negative
elements of history. It is not clear whether Hook's concept
of intelligence implies the definite prediction that social
harmony will ensue from experimentation, but it is certain
that confidence in scientific tests as regards so-called values
depends upon an intellectualistic theory of social change.

In their moral philosophy the positivists, epigoni of
eighteenth-century Enlightenment as they are, turn out to
be disciples of Socrates, who taught that knowledge neces-


sarily produces virtue, just as ignorance necessarily implies
wickedness. Socrates tried to emancipate virtue from re-
ligion. Later this theory was upheld by Pelagius, the British
monk, who doubted that grace is a condition of moral per-
fection, and maintained that doctrine and law are its funda-
ments. The positivists would probably disavow this august
pedigree of theirs. On the pre-philosophical level, they
would certainly subscribe to the common experience that
well-informed people often make mistakes. But if so,
why expect intellectual salvation in philosophy simply
through more thorough information? The expectation
makes sense only if the positivists uphold the Socratic
equation of knowledge and virtue, or some similar rational-
istic principle. Today's controversy between the prophets of
observation ;and those of self-evidence is a weaker form of
the dispute of fifteen hundred years ago over gratia inspira-
tzozus. Modern Pelagians stand against neo-Thomists as
their prototype stood against St. Augustine.

It is by no means the dubiousness of the naturalistic an-
thropology that makes positivism a poor philosophy; it is
rather the lack of self-reflection, its incapacity to understand
its own philosophical implications in ethics as well as in
epistemology. This is what renders its thesis just another
panacea, valiantly defended, but futile because of its ab-
stractness and primitiveness. Neo-positivism insists rigidly
upon the unbroken interconnection of sentences, on the
complete subordination of each element of thought to the
abstract rules of scientific theory. But the foundations of
their own philosophy are laid in a most desultory manner.
Looking contemptuously upon most of the great philosophi-
cal systems of the past, they seem to think that the long


sequences of empirically unverifiable thoughts contained in
those systems are more uncertain, superstitious, nonsensical,
in short more Metaphysical/ than their own relatively
isolated assumptions that are simply taken for granted and
made the basis of their intellectual relation to the world.
The preference for uncomplicated words and sentences that
can be grouped at a glance is one of the anti-intellectual,
anti-humanistic tendencies apparent in the development of
modern language, as well as in cultural life in general. It is
a symptom of that same failure of nerve against which posi-
tivism claims it is fighting.

The contention that the positivist principle has more
affinity with the humanistic ideas of freedom and justice
than other philosophies is almost as grave an error as the
similar claim of the Thomists. Many representatives of
modern positivism work for the realization of these ideas.
But their very love of freedom seems to strengthen their hos-
tility to its vehicle, theoretical thinking. They identify scien-
tism with the interest of humanity. However, the surface ap-
pearance or even the thesis of a doctrine rarely offers a clue
to the role it plays in society. Draco's code, which gives
the impression of bloodthirsty severity, has been one of the
greatest forces for civilization. Conversely in negation of
its own content and meaning the doctrine of Christ from
the Crusaders to modern colonization has been associated
with bloody ruthlessness. Positivists would indeed be better
philosophers if they realized the contradiction between any
philosophical idea and social reality, and therefore empha-
sized the anti-moralistic consequences of their own prin-
ciple, as did the most consistent enlighteners, such as
Mandeville and Nietzsche, who did not insist upon any easy


compatibility of their philosophy with official ideologies,
progressive or reactionary. Indeed, the denial of such har-
mony was the core of their work.

The crime of modern intellectuals against society lies not
so much in their aloofness but in their sacrifice of contradic-
tions and complexities of thought to the exigencies of so-
called common sense. The expertly processed mentality of
this century retains the cave man's hostility toward the
stranger. This is expressed in hatred not only of those who
have skin of a different color or wear a different kind of suit,
but also of strange and unusual thought, nay, even of
thought itself when it follows truth beyond the boundaries
delimitated by the requirements of a given social order.
Thought today is only too often compelled to justify itself
by its usefulness to some established group rather than by
its truth. Even if revolt against misery and frustration can
be discovered as an element in every consistent work of
thought, instrumentality in bringing about reform is no cri-
terion of truth.

The merit of positivism consists in having carried the
fight of Enlightenment against mythologies into the sacred
realm of traditional logic. However, like modern mytholo-
gists, the positivists may be accused of serving a purpose
instead of abandoning purpose for truth. The idealists
glorified commercial culture by attributing a higher meaning
to it. The positivists glorify it by adopting the principle of
this culture as the measure of truth, in a manner not unlike
that in which modern popular art and literature glorify life
as it is not by idealization or lofty interpretation, but by
simply repeating it on canvas, stage, and screen. Neo-
Thomism fails democracy, not as the positivists would


have to argue because its ideas and values are not suffi-
ciently tested in terms of prevailing conditions. Nor is it
because neo-Thomism delays the use of 'methods by which
alone understanding of, and consequent ability to guide,
social relationships can be attained'; 19 Catholicism is famous
for such methods. Thomism fails because it is a half-truth.
Instead of developing its teachings without caring about
their usefulness, its expert propagandists have always adapted
them to the changing requirements of the prevailing social
forces. In recent years they have also adapted them to the
uses of modern authoritarianism, against which, despite its
present defeat, the future has yet to be safeguarded. The
failure of Thomism lies in its ready acquiescence to prag-
matic aims rather than in its lack of practicability. When
a doctrine hypostatizes an isolated principle that excludes
negation, it is paradoxically predisposing itself to conform-

Like all ideas and systems that, by offering clear-cut defi-
nitions of truth and guiding principles, tend to dominate
the cultural scene for a while, both neo-Thomism and neo-
positivism charge all evils to doctrines antithetic to their
own. The accusations vary according to the prevailing
political forms. In the nineteenth century, when naturalists
like Ernst Haeckel accused Christian philosophy of weak-
ening national morale by supranaturalist poison, Christian
philosophers hurled back the same reproach at naturalism.
Today the opposing schools in this country charge each
other with sapping the democratic spirit. They try to
bolster up their respective arguments by doubtful excursions
into the realm of history. Of course, it is hard to be fair to

19 Ibid. p. 27.


Thomism, which has seldom failed to lend a hand to
oppression wherever oppression has been willing to em-
brace the Church, and which claims to be a pioneer of

Dewey's allusion to the reactionary stand of religion in
relation to Darwinism does not really tell the whole story.
The concept of progress expressed in such biological theories
needs a great deal of elaboration, and it may not be long
before the positivists join the Thomists in criticizing it.
Many times in the history of Western civilization have the
Catholic Church and its great teachers helped science
emancipate itself from superstition and charlatanism.
Dewey seems to think that it is particularly persons of
religious belief who have opposed the scientific spirit. This
is an intricate problem; but when, in this connection,
Dewey cites 'the historian of ideas/ 20 the latter should re-
mind him that the rise of European science is after all un-
thinkable without the Church. The Church Fathers carried
on a relentless struggle against all kinds of 'failures of nerve/
among them astrology, occultism, and spiritualism, to which
some positivistic philosophers of our era have proved less
immune than Tertullian, Hippolytus, or St. Augustine.

The relation of the Catholic Church to science varies ac-
cording as the church is allied with progressive or with re-
actionary powers. While the Spanish Inquisition helped a
rotten court to stifle any sound economic and social reforms,
certain popes cultivated relations with the humanistic move-
ment throughout the world. Galileo's enemies had difficulty
in undermining his friendship with Urban VIII, and their
eventual success can be attributed to Galileo's excursions

20 Ibid. p. 31.


into the realm of theology and epistemology, rather than
necessarily to his scientific views. Vincent of Beauvais, the
greatest medieval encyclopedist, referred to the earth as a
point in the universe. Urban himself seems to have regarded
Copernicus' theory as a worthwhile hypothesis. What the
church feared was not natural science in itself; it was quite
able to come to terms with science. In Galileo's case, it was
doubtful about the proofs offered by Copernicus and Gali-
leo; therefore, it could at least pretend that its case was
based on a defense of rationality against hasty conclusions.
Intrigue certainly played a great role in Galileo's condem-
nation. But an advocatus diaboli might well say that the
reluctance of certain cardinals to accept Galileo's doctrine
was due to the suspicion that it was pseudoscientific, like
astrology or today's race theory. Rather than any kind of
empiricism or skepticism, Catholic thinkers have espoused
a doctrine of man and nature, as contained in the Old and
the New Testaments. Offering a certain protection against
superstition in scientific and other disguises, this doctrine
could have prevented the church from chiming in with the
bloodthirsty mob that asserted that it had witnessed sorcer-
ies. It did not have to surrender to the majority, as do the
demagogues who claim that "the people are always right,'
and who often use this principle to undermine democratic
institutions. Yet its participation in witch burnings, the
blood on its escutcheon, does not prove its opposition to
science. After all, if William James and F. C. S. Schiller
could be mistaken about ghosts, the church could be mis-
taken about witches. What the burnings do reveal is an
implicit doubt about its own faith. The ecclesiastical tor-
turers often gave proof of uneasy conscience, as in their


miserable quibble that when a man is burned at the stake
no blood is shed.

The greatest defect of Thomism is not peculiar to its
modern version. It can be traced back to Thomas Aquinas
himself, even to Aristotle. This defect lies in its making
truth and goodness identical with reality. Both positivists
and Thomists seem to feel that the adaptation of man to
what they call reality would lead out of the present-day im-
passe. Critical analysis of such conformism would probably
bring to light the common foundation of the two schools
of thought: both accept as a pattern of behavior an order in
which failure or success temporal or involving the hereafter
plays an integral part. It can be said that this doubtful
principle of adapting humanity to what theory recognizes
as reality is one root cause of the present intellectual decay.
In our day, the hectic desire that people have to adapt them-
selves to something that has the power to be, whether it is
called a fact or an ens rationale, has led to a state of irra-
tional rationality. In this era of formalized reason, doctrines
follow one another so rapidly that each is regarded as just
another ideology, yet each is made a temporary reason for
repression and discrimination.

At one time humanism dreamed of uniting humanity by
giving it a common understanding of its destination. It
thought that it could bring about a good society by theoreti-
cal criticism of contemporary practice, which would then
shift over to the right political activity. This seems to have
been an illusion. Today words are supposed to be blueprints
for action. People think that the requirements of being
should be reinforced by philosophy as the servant of being.
This is just as much of an illusion, and is shared by posi-


tivism and neo-Thomism. The positivist command to con-
form to facts and common sense instead of to Utopian ideas
is not so different from the call to obey reality as interpreted
by religious institutions, which after all are facts too. Each
camp undoubtedly expresses a truth, under the distortion of
making it exclusive. Positivism carries its critique of dog-
matism to the point of nullifying the principle of truth in
the name of which alone the critique makes sense. Neo-
Thomism upholds the principle so rigidly that truth actually
turns into its opposite. Both schools are heteronomous in
character. One tends to replace autonomous reason by the
automatism of streamlined methodology, the other by the
authority of a dogma.



IF reason is declared incapable of determining the ultimate
aims of life and must content itself with reducing every-
thing it encounters to a mere tool, its sole remaining goal
is simply the perpetuation of its co-ordinating activity. This
activity was once ascribed to the autonomous 'subject/
However, the process of subjectivization has affected all
philosophical categories: it has not relativized and preserved
them in a better-structured unity of thought, but has reduced
them to the status of facts to be catalogued. This also holds
true for the category of subject. Dialectical philosophy since
Kanf s day has tried to preserve the heritage of critical trans-
cendentalism, above all the principle that the fundamental
traits and categories of our understanding of the world de-
pend on subjective factors. Awareness of the task of tracing
concepts back to their subjective origins must be present in
each step of defining the object This applies to basic ideas,
such as fact, event, thing, object, nature, no less than to
psychological or sociological relations. From the time of
Kant, idealism has never forgotten this requirement of criti-
cal philosophy. Even the neo-Hegelians of the spiritualistic
school saw in the self 'the highest form of fexperience which
we have, but ... not a true form/ * for the idea of subject

1 F. H. Biadley, Appearance and Reality, Oxford, 1930, p. 103.



is itself an isolated concept that must be relativized by philo-
sophical thought. But Dewey, who occasionally seems to
join with Bradley in elevating experience to the highest pkce
in metaphysics, declares that 'the self or subject of experience
is part and parcel of the course of events/ 2 According to
him, "the organism the self, the "subject" of action is a
factor within experience/ s He reifies the subject. Yet the
more all nature is looked upon as 'quite a mess of miscel-
laneous stuff' 4 ('mess* doubtless only because the structure
of nature does not correspond to human use), as mere ob-
jects in relation to human subjects, the more is the once
supposedly autonomous subject emptied of any content,
until it finally becomes a mere name with nothing to de-
nominate. The total transformation of each and every realm
of being into a field of means leads to the liquidation of the
subject who is supposed to use them. This gives modern
industrialist society its nihilistic aspect. Subjectivization,
which exalts the subject, also dooms him.

The human being, in the process of his emancipation,
shares the fate of the rest of his world. Domination of na-
ture involves domination of man. Each subject not only has
to take part in the subjugation of external nature, human
and nonhuman, but in order to do so must subjugate nature
in himself. Domination becomes 'internalized 7 for domi-
nation's sake. What is usually indicated as a goal the hap-
piness of the individual, health, and wealth gains its signifi-
cance exclusively from its functional potentiality. These

2 John Dewey and others, Creative Intelligence, New York, 1917, p. 59.

s .The Philosophy., of John Dewey, edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp,
Evanston and Chicago, 1939. The Library of Living Philosophers, vol. i,
p. 532.

* Harry Todd Costeflo, The Naturalism of Frederick Woodbridge/ in
Naturalism and the Human Spirit, p. 299.


terms designate favorable conditions for intellectual and
material production. Therefore self-renunciation of the
individual in industrialist society has no goal transcending
industrialist society. Such abnegation brings about ration-
ality with reference to means and irrationality with reference
to human existence. Society and its institutions, no less
than the individual himself, bear the mark of this discrep-
ancy. Since the subjugation of nature, in and outside of
man, goes on without a meaningful motive, nature is not
really transcended or reconciled but merely repressed.

Resistance and revulsion arising from this repression of
nature have beset civilization from its beginnings, in the
form of social rebellions as in the spontaneous peasant in-
surrections of the sixteenth century or the cleverly staged
race riots of our own day as well as in the form of individual
crime and mental derangement Typical of our present era
is the manipulation of this revolt by the prevailing forces of
civilization itself, the use of the revolt as a means of perpetu-
ating the very conditions by which it is stirred up and against
which it is directed. Civilization as rationalized irrationality
integrates the revolt of nature as another means or instru-

Here it is in order to discuss briefly some of the aspects of
this mechanism, e.g. the situation of man in a culture of
self-preservation for its own sake; the internalization of domi-
nation by the development of the abstract subject, the ego;
the dialectical reversal of the principle of domination by
which man makes himself a tool of that same nature which
he subjugates; the repressed mimetic impulse, as a destruc-
tive force exploited by the most radical systems of social
domination. Among the intellectual trends that are sympto-


matic of the interconnection between rulership and revolt,
Darwinism will be discussed as an instance, not because
more typical philosophical illustrations of the identity of
man's domination over and submission to nature are lack-
ing, but because Darwinism is one of the landmarks of
popular enlightenment that pointed the way with inescap-
able logic to the cultural situation of the present day.

One factor in civilization might be described as the grad-
ual replacement of natural selection by rational action.
Survival or, let us say, success depends upon the adapt-
ability of the individual to the pressures that society brings
to bear on him. To survive, man transforms himself into
an apparatus that responds at every moment with just the
appropriate reaction to the baffling and difficult situations
that make up his life. Everyone must be ready to meet any
situation. This is doubtless not a feature characteristic of
the modern period alone; it has been operative during the
entire history of mankind. However, the individual's in-
tellectual and psychological resources have varied with the
means of material production. The life of a Dutch peasant
or craftsman in the seventeenth century, or of a shop owner
in the eighteenth, was certainly much less secure than the
life of a workman today. But the emergence of industrial-
ism has brought qualitatively new phenomena in its train.
The process of adjustment has now become deliberate and
therefore total.

Just as all life today tends increasingly to be subjected to
rationalization and planning, so the life of each individual,
including his most hidden impulses, which formerly consti-
tuted his private domain, must now take the demands of
rationalization and planning into account: the individual's


self-preservation presupposes his adjustment to the require-
ments for the preservation of the system. He no longer has
room to evade the system. And just as the process of ra-
tionalization is no longer the result of the anonymous forces
of the market, but is decided in the consciousness of a
planning minority, so the mass of subjects must deliberately
adjust themselves: the subject must, so to speak, devote all
his energies to being 'in and of the movement of things' 5
in the terms of the pragmatistic definition. Formerly reality
was opposed to and confronted with the ideal, which was
evolved by the supposedly autonomous individual; reality
was supposed to be shaped in accordance with this ideal.
Today such ideologies are compromised and skipped over
by progressive thought, which thus unwittingly facilitates
the elevation of reality to the status of ideal. Therefore ad-
justment becomes the standard for every conceivable type
of subjective behavior. The triumph of subjective, formal-
ized reason is also the triumph of a reality that confronts the
subject as absolute, overpowering.

The contemporary mode of production demands much
more flexibility than ever before. The greater initiative
needed in practically all walks of life calls for greater adapt-
ability to changing conditions. If a medieval artisan could
have adopted another craft, his change-over would have
been more radical than that of a person today who becomes
successively a mechanic, a salesman, and director of an
insurance company. The ever greater uniformity of techni-
cal processes makes it easier for men to change jobs. But
the greater ease of transition from one activity to another
does not mean that more time is left for speculation or for

5 Dewey, in Creative Intelligence.


deviations from established patterns. The more devices we
invent for dominating nature, the more must we serve them
if we are to survive.

Man has gradually become less dependent upon absolute
standards of conduct, universally binding ideals. He is held
to be so completely free that he needs no standards except
his own. Paradoxically, however, this increase of inde-
pendence has led to a parallel increase of passivity. Shrewd
as man's calculations have become as regards his means, his
choice of ends, which was formerly correlated with belief in
an objective truth, has become witless: the individual, puri-
fied of all remnants of mythologies, including the mythology
of objective reason, reacts automatically, according to gen-
eral patterns of adaptation. Economic and social forces take
on the character of blind natural powers that man, in order
to preserve himself, must dominate by adjusting himself to
them. As the end result of the process, we have on the one
hand the self, the abstract ego emptied of all substance ex-
cept its attempt to transform everything in heaven and on
earth into means for its preservation, and on the other
hand an empty nature degraded to mere material, mere
stuff to' be dominated, without any other purpose than that
of this very domination.

For the average man self-preservation has become de-
pendent upon the speed of his reflexes. Reason itself be-
comes identical with this adjustive faculty. It may seem
that present-day man has a much freer choice than his
ancestors had, and in a certain sense he has. His freedom
has increased tremendously with the increase in productive
potentialities. In terms of quantity, a modern worker has a
much wider selection of consumer goods than a nobleman


of the ancien regime. The importance of this historical de-
velopment must not be underestimated; but before inter-
preting the multiplication of choices as an increase in free-
dom, as is done by the enthusiasts of assembly-line produc-
tion, we must take into account the pressure inseparable
from this increase and the change in quality that is con-
comitant with this new kind of choice. The pressure consists
in th continual coercion that modern social conditions put
upon everyone; the change may be illustrated by the differ-
ence between a craftsman of the old type, who selected the
proper tool for a delicate piece of work, and the worker of
today, who must decide quickly which of many levers or
switches he should pull. Quite different degrees of freedom
are involved in driving a horse and in driving a modern auto-
mobile. Aside from the fact that the automobile is available
to a much larger percentage of the population than the
carriage was, the automobile is faster and more efficient, re-
quires less care, and is perhaps more manageable. However,
the accretion of freedom has brought about a change in the
character of freedom. It is as if the innumerable laws, regu-
lations, and directions with which we must comply were
driving the car, not we. There are speed limits, warnings to
drive slowly, to stop, to stay within certain knes, and even
diagrams showing the shape of the curve ahead. We must
keep our eyes on the road and be ready at each instant to re-
act with the right motion. Our spontaneity has been
replaced by a frame of mind which compels us to discard
every emotion or idea that might impair our alertness to the
impersonal demands assailing us.

The change illustrated by this example extends to most
branches of our culture. It is sufficient to compare the


methods of persuasion used by the old-fashioned business-
man with those of modern advertising garish neon signs,
mammoth placards, deafening loudspeakers. Behind the
baby talk of slogans, to which nothing is sacred, is an in-
visible text proclaiming the power of the industrial concerns
that are able to pay for this luxurious stupidity. Indeed,
the initiation fee and the dues of this business fraternity
are so high that the small newcomer is defeated before
he starts. The invisible text proclaims also the connections
and agreements among the dominant companies, and finally
the concentrated power of the economic apparatus as a

Although the consumer is, so to speak, given his choice,
he does not get a penny's worth too much for his money,
whatever the trademark he prefers to possess. The difference
in quality between two equally priced popular articles is
usually as infinitesimal as the difference in the nicotine
content of two brands of cigarettes. Nevertheless, this
difference, corroborated by 'scientific tests/ is dinned into
the consumer's mind through posters illuminated by a
thousand electric light bulbs, over the radio, and by use of
entire pages of newspapers and magazines, as if it repre-
sented a revelation altering the entire course of the world
rather than an illusory fraction that makes no real difference,
even for a chain smoker. People can somehow read between
the lines of this language of power. They understand, and
adjust themselves.

In national-socialist Germany, the various competing
economic empires formed a common front against the
people, under the mantle of the Volksgemeinschaft, and
waived their surface differences. But having been subjected


to a continuous barrage of propaganda, the people were pre-
pared to adapt themselves passively to new power relations,
to allow themselves only the kind of reaction that enabled
them to fit into the economic, social, and political setup.
Before the Germans learned to do without political inde-
pendence, they had learned to regard forms of government
as merely another pattern to which they must adapt them-
selves, just as they had adapted their reactions to a machine
in the workshop or to the rules of the road. As has been
said above, the necessity of adjustment of course existed also
in the past; the difference lies in the tempo of compliance,
in the degree to which this attitude has permeated the whole
being of the people and altered the nature of the freedom
gained. Above all, it lies in the fact that modern humanity
surrenders to this process not like a child who has a natural
confidence in authority but like an adult who gives up the
individuality that he has acquired. The victory of civiliza-
tion is too complete to be true.. Therefore adjustment in
our times involves an element of resentment and suppressed

Intellectually, modern man is less hypocritical than his
forefathers of the nineteenth century who glossed over the
materialistic practices of society by pious phrases about
Jdealism. Today no one is taken in by this kind of hypocrisy.
But this is not because the contradiction between high-
sounding phrases and reality has been abolished. The con-
tradiction has only become institutionalized. Hypocrisy has
turned cynical; it does not even expect to be believed. The
same voice that preaches about the higher things of life,
such as art, friendship, or religion, exhorts the hearer to se-
lect a given brand of soap. Pamphlets on how to improve
one's speech, how to understand music, how to be saved, are


written in the same style as those extolling the advantages
of laxatives. Indeed, one expert copywriter may have written
any one of them. In the highly developed division of labor,
expression has become an instrument used by technicians
in the service of industry. A would-be author can go to a
school and learn the many combinations that can be con-
trived from a list of set plots. These schemes have been co-
ordinated to a certain degree with the requirements of other
agencies of mass culture, particularly those of the film in-
dustry. A novel is written with its film possibilities in mind,
a symphony or poem is composed with an eye to its propa-
ganda value. Once it was the endeavor of art, literature, and
philosophy to express the meaning of things and of life, to
be the voice of all that is dumb, to endow nature with an
organ for making known her sufferings, or, we might say,
to call reality by its rightful name. Today nature's tongue is
taken away. Once it was thought that each utterance, word,
cry, or gesture had an intrinsic meaning; today it is merely
an occurrence.

The story of the boy who looked up at the sky and asked,
'Daddy, what is the moon supposed to advertise?' is an
allegory of what has happened to the relation between man
and nature in the era of formalized reason. On the one
hand, nature has been stripped of all intrinsic value or mean-
ing. On the other, man has been stripped of all aims except
self-preservation. He tries to transform everything within
reach into a means to that end. Every word or sentence
that hints of relations other than pragmatic is suspect.
When a man is asked to admire a thing, to respect a feeling
or attitude, to love a person for his own sake, he smells
sentimentality and suspects that someone is pulling his leg
or trying to sell him something. Though people may not


ask what the moon is supposed to advertise, they tend to
think of it in terms of ballistics or aerial mileage.

The complete transformation of the world into a world of
means rather than of ends is itself the consequence of the
historical development of the methods of production. As
material production and social organization grow more
complicated and reified, recognition of means as such be-
comes increasingly difficult, since they assume the appear-
ance of autonomous entities. As long as the means of
production are primitive, the forms of social organization
are primitive. The institutions of the Polynesian tribes re-
flect the direct and overwhelming pressure of nature. Their
social organization has been shaped by their material needs.
The old people, weaker than the younger but more experi-
enced, make the plans for hunting, for building bridges, for
choosing camp sites, et cetera; the younger must obey. The
women, weaker than the men, do not go hunting and do
not participate in preparing and eating the big game; their
duties are to gather plants and shellfish. The bloody magical
rites serve partly to initiate the youth and partly to inculcate
a tremendous respect for the power of priests and elders.

What is true of the primitives is true of more civilized
communities: the kinds of weapons or machines that man
uses at the various stages of his evolution call for certain
forms of command and obedien'ce, of co-operation and
subordination, and thus are effective also in bringing into
being certain legal, artistic, and religious forms. During his
long history man has at times acquired such freedom from
the immediate pressure of nature that he could think about
nature and reality without directly or indirectly thereby
planning for his self-preservation. These relatively inde-


pendent forms of thinking, which Aristotle describes as
theoretical contemplation, were particularly cultivated in
philosophy. Philosophy aimed at an insight that was not to
serve useful calculations but was intended to further under-
standing of nature in and for itself.

Speculative thought, from the economic point of view,
was doubtless a luxury that, in a society based on group
domination only a class of people exempt from hard labor
could afford. The intellectuals, for whom Plato and Aris-
totle were the first great European spokesmen, owe their
very existence, and their leisure to indulge in speculation, to
the system of domination from which they try to emanci-
pate themselves intellectually. The vestiges of this para-
doxical situation can be discovered in various systems of
thought Today and this is certainly progress the masses
know that such freedom for contemplation crops up only
occasionally. It was always a privilege of certain groups,
which automatically built up an ideology hypostatizing their
privilege as a human virtue; thus it served actual ideological
purposes, glorifying those exempt from manual labor.
Hence the distrust aroused by the group. In our era the in-
tellectual is, indeed, not exempt from the pressure that the
economy exerts upon him to satisfy the ever-changing de-
mands of reality. Consequently, meditation, which looked
to eternity, is superseded by pragmatic intelligence, which
looks to the next moment. Instead of losing its character as
a privilege, speculative thought is altogether liquidated
and this can hardly be called progress. It is true that in this
process nature has lost its awesomeness, its qualitates oc-
cultae, but, completely deprived of the chance to speak
through the minds of men even in the distorted language


of these privileged groups, nature seems to be taking its

Modern insensitivity to nature is indeed only a variation
of the pragmatic attitude that is typical of Western civiliza-
tion as a whole. The forms are different. The early trapper
saw in the prairies and mountains only the prospects of good
hunting; the modern businessman sees in the landscape an
opportunity for the display of cigarette posters. The fate
of animals in our world is symbolized by an item printed in
newspapers of a few years ago. It reported that landings of
planes in Africa were often hampered by herds of elephants
and other beasts. Animals are here considered simply as
obstructors of traffic. This mentality of man as the master
can be traced back to the first chapters of Genesis. The
few precepts in favor of animals that we encounter in the
Bible have been interpreted by the most outstanding re-
ligious thinkers, Paul, Thomas Aquinas, and Luther, as per-
taining only to the moral education of man, and in no wise
to any obligation of man toward other creatures. Only
man's soul can be saved; animals have but the right to suffer.
"Some men and women/ wrote a British churchman a few
years ago, 'suffer and die for the life, the welfare, the happi-
ness of others. This law is continually seen in operation.
The supreme example of it was shown to the world (I write
with reverence) on Calvary, Why should animals be ex-
empted from the operation of this law or principle?' 6 Pope
Pius IX did not permit a society for the prevention of
cruelty to animals to be founded in Rome because, as he
declared, theology teaches that man owes no duty to any

6 Edward Westennark, Christianity and Morals, New York, 1939,
p. 388.


animal/ National Socialism, it is true, boasted of its pro-
tection of animals, but only in order to humiliate more
deeply those 'inferior races' whom they treated as mere

These instances are quoted only in order to show that
pragmatic reason is not new. Yet, the philosophy behind it,
the idea that reason, the highest intellectual faculty of man,
is solely concerned with instruments, nay, is a mere instru-
ment itself, is formulated more clearly and accepted more
generally today than ever before. The principle of domina-
tion has become the idol to which everything is sacrificed.

The history of man's efforts to subjugate nature is also the
history of man's subjugation by man. The development of
the concept of the ego reflects this twofold history.

It is very hard to describe precisely what the languages of
the Western world have at any given time purported to con-
note in the term ego a notion steeped in vague associations.
As the principle of the self endeavoring to win in the fight
against nature in general, against other people in particular,
and against its own impulses, the ego is felt to be related to
the functions of domination, command, and organization.
The ego principle seems to be manifested in the outstretched
arm of the ruler, directing his men to march or dooming the
culprit to execution. Spiritually, it has the quality of a ray of
light. In penetrating the darkness, it startles the ghosts of
belief and feeling, which prefer to lurk in shadows. His-
torically, it belongs pre-eminently to an age of caste privi-
lege marked by a cleavage between intellectual and manual
labor, between conquerors and conquered. Its dominance
is patent in the patriarchal epoch. It could scarcely have

7 Ibid p. 389.


played a decisive role in matriarchal days to recall Bachof en
and Morgan when chthonic deities were worshiped. Nor
may one properly ascribe ego or self to the slave of antiquity,
to the amorphous mass at the base of the social pyramid,

The principle of domination, based originally on brute
force, acquired in the course of time a more spiritual charac-
ter. The inner voice took the place of the master in issuing
commands. The history of Western civilization could be
written in terms of the growth of the ego as the underling
sublimates, that is internalizes, the commands of his master
who has preceded him in self-discipline. From this stand-
point, the leader and the elite might be described as having
effected coherence and logical connection between the vari-
ous transactions of daily life. They enforced continuity,
regularity, even uniformity in the productive process, primi-
tive though it was. The ego within each subject became
the embodiment of the leader. It established a rational
nexus between the variegated experiences of different per-
sons. Just as the leader groups his men as foot soldiers and
mounted troops, just as he charts the future, so the ego
classifies experiences by categories or species and plans the
life of the individual. French sociology 8 has taught that the
hierarchical arrangement of primitive general concepts re-
flected the organization of the tribe and its power over the
individual. It has shown that the whole logical order, the
ranking of concepts according to priority and posteriority,
inferiority and superiority, and the marking out of their
respective domains and boundaries, mirror social relations
and the division of labor.

*Cf. E. Durkheim, Tte qudques formes primitives de classification/
UAiw6e sociologique, iv, 66, 1903.


At no time has the notion of the ego shed the blemishes
of its origin in the system of social domination. Even such
idealized versions as Descartes* doctrine of the ego suggest
coercion; Gassendf s objections to the Meditations poked
fun at the notion of a little spirit, namely, the ego, that from
its well-concealed citadel in the brain arcem in cerebro
tenens * or, as the psychologists might say, the receiving-
sending station in the brain, edits the reports of the senses
and issues its orders to the various parts of the body.

It is instructive to follow Descartes* efforts to find a place
for this ego, which is not in nature but remains close enough
to nature to influence it. Its first concern is to dominate
the passions, that is, nature, so far as it makes itself felt in
us. The ego is indulgent to agreeable and wholesome emo-
tions but is stern with anything conducive to sadness. Its
central concern must be to keep the emotions from biasing
judgments. Mathematics, crystal-clear, imperturbable, and
self-sufficient, the classical instrument of formalized reason,
best exemplifies the workings of this austere agency. The
ego dominates nature. To describe the ego's aims except in
terms of its own indefinite persistence would contaminate
the concept of the ego.

In Descartes* philosophy, the dualism of ego and nature
is somewhat blunted by his traditional Catholicism. The
later development of rationalism, and then of subjective
idealism, tended increasingly to mediate the dualism by
attempting to dissolve the concept of nature and ultimately
all the content of experience in the ego, conceived as tran-
scendental. But the more radically this trend is developed,
the greater is the influence of the old, more naive, and for

9 Oeuvres de Descartes, Paris, 1904, vn, p. 269.


that reason less irreconcilable dualism of the Cartesian
theory of substance in the ego's own domain. The most
striking example of this is the extreme subjectivist-tran-
scendental philosophy of Fichte. In his early doctrine, ac-
cording to which the sole laison cf efcre of the world lies in
affording a field of activity for the imperious transcendental
self, the relationship between the ego and nature is one of
tyranny. The entire universe becomes a tool of the ego,
although the ego has no substance or meaning except in its
own boundless activity. Modern ideology, though much
closer to Fichte than is generally believed, has cut adrift
from such metaphysical moorings, and the antagonism be-
tween an abstract ego as undisputed master and a nature
stripped of inherent meaning is obscured by vague absolutes
such as the ideas of progress, success, happiness, or experi-

Nevertheless, nature is today more than ever conceived
as a mere tool of man. It is the object of total exploitation
that has no aim set by reason, and therefore no limit Man's
boundless imperialism is never satisfied. The dominion of
the human race over the earth has no parallel in those
epochs of natural history in which other animal species
represented the highest forms of organic development.
Their appetites were limited by the necessities of their
physical existence. Indeed, man's avidity to extend his
power in two infinities, the microcosm and the universe,
does not arise directly from his own nature, but from the
structure of society. Just as attacks of imperialistic nations
on the rest of the world must be explained on the basis of
their internal struggles rather than in terms of their so-called
national character, so the totalitarian attacl of the human


race on anything that it excludes from itself derives from
interhuman relationships rather than from innate human
qualities. The warfare among men in war and in peace is
the key to the insatiability of the species and to its ensuing
practical attitudes, as well as to the categories and methods
of scientific intelligence in which nature appears increasingly
under the aspect of its most effective exploitation. This
form of perception has also determined the way in which
human beings visualize each other in their economic and
political relationships. The patterns of humanity's way of
looking at nature finally reflect on and determine the imag-
ing of humans in the human mind and eliminate the last
objective goal that might motivate the process. The repres-
sion of desires that society achieves through the ego becomes
even more unreasonable not only for the population as a
whole but for each individual. The more loudly the idea of
rationality is proclaimed and acknowledged, the stronger is
the growth in the minds of people of conscious or uncon-
scious resentment against civilization and its agency within
the individual, the ego.

How does nature, in all the phases of its oppression, in-
side and outside the human being, react to this antagonism?
What are the psychological, political, and philosophical
manifestations of its revolt? Is it possible to void the con-
flict by a 'return to nature/ by a revival of old doctrines, or
by the creation of new myths?

Each human being experiences the domineering aspect
of civilization from his birth. To the child, the father's
power seems overwhelming, supernatural in the literal sense
of tiie word. The father's command is reason exempt from
nature, an inexorable spiritual force. The child suffers in


submitting to this force. It is almost impossible for an
adult to remember all the pangs he experienced as a child
in heeding innumerable parental admonitions not to stick
his tongue out, not to mimic others, not to be untidy or
forget to wash behind his ears. In these demands, the child
is confronted by the fundamental postulates of civilization.
He is forced to resist the immediate pressure of his urges,
to differentiate between himself and the environment, to be
efficientin short, to borrow Freud's terminology, to adopt
a superego embodying all the so-called principles that his
father and other father-like figures hold up to him. The
child does not recognize the motive for all these demands.
He obeys lest he be scolded or punished, lest he forfeit the
love of his parents which he deeply craves. But the dis-
pleasure attached to submission persists, and he develops a
deep hostility to his father, which is eventually translated
into resentment against civilization itself.

The process may be particularly drastic if obedience is
enforced less by an individual than by groups by other
children on the playground and in school. They do not
argue, they hit As industrialist society passes into a stage in
which the child is directly confronted with collective forces,
the part played in his psychological household by discourse,
and consequently by thought, decreases. Thus conscience,
or the superego, disintegrates. To this we must add the
change in the mother's attitude as the transition to formal
rationality brings it about The tremendous good that
psychoanalytical enlightenment in all its versions has
brought to certain urban groups is at the same time a further
step toward a more rationalized and conscious attitude on
the part of the mother, on whose instinctual love the child's


development depends. She is transformed into a nurse, her
friendliness and her insistence become gradually part of a
technique. Much as society may gain by making mother-
hood a science, it deprives the individual of certain influ-
ences that formerly had a binding force in social life.

Hatred of civilization is not only an irrational projection
of personal psychological difficulties into the world (as it is
interpreted in some psychoanalytical writing). The adoles-
cent learns that the renunciations of instinctual urges ex-
pected from him are not adequately compensated, that, for
instance, the sublimation of sexual goals required by civili-
zation fails to obtain for him the material security in the
name of which it is preached. Industrialism tends more and
more to subject sex relations to social domination. The
Church mediated between nature and civilization by making
marriage a sacrament, still tolerating saturnalia, minor erotic
excesses, and even prostitution. In the present era marriage
becomes increasingly the cachet of a social sanction, a pay-
ment of dues for membership in a club of male prerogative
for which the women make the rales. For the women, it is
also a cachet in the sense of a prize to be striven for, a prize
of sanctioned security. The girl who violates the conven-
tions is no longer pitied or condemned for the reason that
she is losing her stake in this and the other life; she simply
does not realize her opportunities. She is foolish, not tragic.
The emphasis shifts completely to the expediency of mar-
riage as an instrument of conformity in the social machinery.
Powerful agencies supervise its functioning, and the amuse-
ment industry is enlisted as its advertising agency. While
society is busily engaged in abolishing the small rackets of
prostitution, which make a commerce of love, instinctual


life in all its branches is increasingly adapted to the spirit
of commercial culture. The frustrations produced by this
tendency are profoundly rooted in the civilizing process;
they must be understood phylogenetically, not only onto-
genetically, for to some extent the psychological complexes
reproduce the primitive history of civilization. It is true
that in the current phase of civilization these primitive
processes are being relived. On this higher level, the con-
flict centers about the ideals for the sake of which the renun-
ciation is enforced. What fills the adolescent with distress
is, above all, his dim and confused realization of the close
connection or near-identity of reason, self, domination,
and nature. He feels the gap between the ideals taught
to him and the expectations that they arouse in him on the
one hand, and the reality principle to which he is compelled
to submit on the other. His ensuing rebellion is directed
against the circumstance that the air of godliness, of aloof-
ness from nature, of infinite superiority, conceals the rule
of the stronger or of the smarter.

This discovery may add either one of two important ele-
ments to the character of the individual who makes it: re-
sistance or submission. The resistant individual will oppose
any pragmatic attempt to reconcile the demands of truth
and the irrationalities of existence. Rather than to sacrifice
truth by conforming to prevailing standards, he will insist
on expressing in his life as much truth as he can, both in
theory and in practice. His will be a life of conflict; he must
be ready to run the risk of utter loneliness. The irrational
hostility that would incline him to project his inner difficul-
ties upon the world is overcome by a passion to realize what
his father represented in his childish imagination, namely,


truth. This type of youthif it is a type takes seriously
what he has been taught. He at least is successful in the
process of internalization to the extent of turning against
outside authority and the blind cult of so-called reality. He
does not shrink from persistently confronting reality with
truth, from unveiling the antagonism between ideals and
actualities. His criticism itself, theoretical and practical, is
a negative reassertion of the positive faith he had as a child.
The other element, submission, is the one the majority is
driven to take on. Although most people never overcome
the habit of berating the world for their difficulties, those
who are too weak to make a stand against reality have no
choice but to obliterate themselves by identifying with it
They are never rationally reconciled to civilization. Instead,
they bow to it, secretly accepting the identity of reason and
domination, of civilization and the ideal, however much
they may shrug their shoulders. Well-informed cynicism is
only another mode of conformity. These people willingly
embrace or force themselves to accept the rule of the
stronger as the eternal norm. Their whole life is a con-
tinuous effort to suppress and abase nature, inwardly or out-
wardly, and to identify themselves with its more powerful
surrogates the race, fatherland, leader, cliques, and tradi-
tion. For them, all these words mean the same thing the
irresistible reality that must be honored and obeyed. How-
ever, their own natural impulses, those antagonistic to the
various demands of civilization, lead a devious undercover
life within them. In psychoanalytic terms, one might say
that the submissive individual is one whose unconscious has
become fixed at the level of repressed rebellion against his
real parents. This rebellion manifests itself in officious con-


formity or in crime, according to social or individual condi-
tions. The resistant individual remains loyal to his superego,
and in a sense to his father image. But a man's resistance to
the world cannot be deduced simply from his unsolved con-
flict with his parents. On the contrary, only he is capable of
resisting who has transcended this conflict. The real reason
for his attitude is his realization that reality is 'untrue/ a
realization he achieves by comparing his parents with the
ideals that they claim to represent.

The change in the role of parents, through the increasing
transfer of their educational functions to school and social
groups as brought about by modern economic life, accounts
to a great extent for the gradual disappearance of individual
resistance to prevailing social trends. However, in order to
understand certain phenomena of mass psychology that have
played a major role in recent history, a specific psychological
mechanism deserves particular attention.

Modern writers tell us that the mimetic impulse of the
child, his insistence on imitating everybody and everything,
including his own feelings, is one of the means of learning,
particularly in those early and all but unconscious stages of
personal development that determine the individual's even-
tual character, his modes of reaction, his general behavior
patterns. The whole body is an organ of mimetic expres-
sion. It is by way of this faculty that a human being ac-
quires his special manner of laughing and crying, of speak-
ing and judging. Only in the later phases of childhood is
this unconscious imitation subordinated to conscious imi-
tation and rational methods of learning. This explains why,
for instance, the gestures, the intonations of voice, the de-
gree and kind of irritability, the gait, in short, all the al-


legedly natural characteristics of a so-called race seem to
persist by heredity long after the environmental causes for
them have disappeared. The reactions and gestures of a
successful Jewish businessman sometimes reflect the anxiety
under which his ancestors lived; for an individual's manner-
isms are less the fruit of rational education than atavistic
vestiges due to mimetic tradition.

In the present crisis the problem of mimesis is particu-
larly urgent. Civilization starts with, but must eventually
transcend and transvaluate, man's native mimetic impulses.
Cultural progress as a whole, as well as individual education,
i.e. the phylogenetic and ontogenetic processes of civiliza-
tion, consists largely in converting mimetic into rational
attitudes. Just as primitives must learn that they can pro-
duce better crops by treating the soil properly than by prac-
ticing magic, so the modern child must learn to curb his
mimetic impulses and to direct them toward a definite goal.
Conscious adaptation and eventually domination replace
the various forms of mimesis. The progress of science is the
theoretical manifestation of this change: the formula sup-
plants the image, the calculating machine the ritual dances.
To adapt oneself means to make oneself like the world of
objects for the sake of self-preservation. This deliberate (as
opposed to reflexive) making of oneself like the environ-
ment is a universal principle of civilization.

Judaism and Christianity were efforts to give meaning to
this mastering of primitive urges, to turn blind resignation
into understanding and hope. They achieved it by means
of the messianic doctrine of the eternal soul and of personal
beatitude. The European schools of philosophy tried to de-
velop this religious heritage by means of critical reasoning,

and even those of negative or atheistic trend kept these ideas
alive by refusing to respect the fences of neutralized religion
as a separate field. The great revolutions, the heirs of phi-
losophy, transferred the absolute beliefs of the masses largely
to the political realm. The nationalism of the modern era,
however, has apparently not been able to inspire in the
masses the vital faith that religion gave them. Although the
French were willing to die for their fatherland and their em-
peror again and again, they found in his celebrated social re-
form too little hope to live on. The reinstatement of Ca-
tholicism by Napoleon indicates that the masses could not
bear the painful repression of natural urges imposed upon
them by his political and social program without the solace
of the transcendental. Modern Russia inspires similar re-

If the final renunciation of the mimetic impulse does not
promise to lead to the fulfilment of man's potentialities,
this impulse will always lie in wait, ready to break out as a
destructive force. That is, if there is no other norm than
the status quo, if all the hope of happiness that reason can
offer is that it preserves the existing as it is and even in-
creases its pressure, the mimetic impulse is never really over-
come. Men revert to it in a regressive and distorted form.
Like the prudish censors of pornography, they abandon
themselves to tabooed urges with hatred and contempt.
Dominated masses readily identify themselves with the re-
pressive agency. Indeed, in its service alone are they given
free rein to indulge their imperious mimetic impulses, their
need of expression. Their reaction to pressure is imitation
an implacable desire to persecute. This desire in turn is
utilized to maintain the system that produces it. In this


respect, modern man is not very different from his medieval
forerunner, except in his choice of victims. Political out-
casts, eccentric religious sects like the German Bibelforscher,
and 'zoot-suiters* have taken the place of witches, sorcerers,
and heretics; and there are still the Jews. Anyone who ever
attended a National-Socialist meeting in Germany knows
that speakers and audience got their chief thrill in acting out
socially repressed mimetic drives, even if only in ridiculing
and attacking racial enemies accused of impudently flaunt-
ing their own mimetic habits. The high spot of such a meet-
ing was the moment when the speaker impersonated a Jew.
He imitated those he would see destroyed. His impersona-
tions aroused raucous hilarity, because a forbidden natural
urge was permitted to assert itself without fear of repri-

No one has more ingeniously portrayed the deep anthro-
pological affinity between hilarity, fury, and imitation than
Victor Hugo in I/Homme quf rit. The scene in the British
House of Lords in which laughter triumphs over truth is a
masterful lecture on social psychology. The passage is en-
titled 'Human Storms Are More Malign than Storms of the
Sea/ According to Hugo, laughter always contains an ele-
ment of cruelty, and the laughter of crowds is the hilarity
of madness. In our days of 'strength through joy 7 there are
writers who leave those lords far behind. Max Eastman de-
fends hilarity as a principle. Speaking of the concept of ab-
solute, he declares: 'One of our chief virtues is that when
we hear people say things like that ['the absolute'] we feel
inclined to laugh. Laughter actually plays among us the role
pkyed in Germany by this same "absolute/' ' In the eight-
eenth century, philosophy's laughter at big words sounded


a rousing and courageous note that had an emancipating
force. Such words were the symbols of actual tyranny; scof-
fing at them involved the risk of torture and death. In the
twentieth century the object of laughter is not the conform-
ing multitude but rather the eccentric who still ventures to
think autonomously. 10 That this intellectual sidling up to
anti-intellectualism expresses a literary tendency of today, is
evidenced by Charles Beard's quoting Eastman's views with
assent 11 However, the tendency is far from being typical of
the national spirit, as these authors seem to intimate. Open-
ing the very first volume of Emerson, we find something that
Eastman would call "an intrusion from the "absolute" ':
'Whilst we behold unveiled the nature of Justice and Truth,
we learn the difference between the absolute and the condi-
tional or relative. We apprehend the absolute. As it were,
f or the first time, we exist.' " This motive remained a guid-
ing idea of Emerson's whole work.

The spiteful use of the mimetic urge explains certain
traits of modern demagogues. They are often described as
ham actors. One might think of Goebbels. In appearance
he was a caricature of the Jewish salesman whose liquidation
he advocated. Mussolini reminded one of a provincial prima
donna or a comic-opera corporal of the guard. Hitler's bag
of tricks seems almost to have been stolen from Charlie
Chaplin. His abrupt and exaggerated gestures were remi-
niscent of Chaplin's caricatures of strong men in the early
slapstick comedies. Modern demagogues usually behave

w On the different functions of skepticism in history, cf. Max Hork-
heinier, "Montaigne und die Funktion der Skepsis' (English abstract,
'Montaigne and the Changing Role of Skepticism'), Zeitschrift fur SoziaJ-
forschung, vn, 1938, i fL

11 The American Spirit, New York, 1942, p. 664.

**,p. 57.


like unruly boys, who normally are reprimanded or repressed
by their parents, teachers, or some other civilizing agency.
Their effect on an audience seems due partly to the fact
that by acting out repressed urges they seem to be flying in
the face of civilization and sponsoring the revolt of nature.
But their protest is by no means genuine or naive. They
never forget the purpose of their clowning. Their constant
aim is to tempt nature to join the forces of repression by
which nature itself is to be crushed.

Western civilization has never had a strong hold on the
oppressed masses. Indeed, recent events demonstrate that
when a crisis occurs, culture can count on few of its self-
proclaimed devotees to stand out for its ideals. For one man
who is able to differentiate between truth and reality, as the
chief religions and philosophical systems have always done,
there are thousands who have never been able to overcome
the tendency to regress to their mimetic and other atavistic
urges. This is not simply the fault of the masses: for the
majority of mankind, civilization has meant the pressure to
grow up to an adult state and responsibility, and still means
poverty. Even rulers have not escaped the mutilating effects
by which humanity pays for its technocratic triumphs. In
other words, tlie overwhelming majority of people have no
'personality/ Appeals to their inner dignity or latent po-
tentialities would arouse their distrust, and rightly so, be-
cause such words have become mere phrases by means of
which they are supposedly kept in subservience. But their
justified skepticism is accompanied by a deep-rooted tend-
ency to treat their own 'inner nature' brutally and spitefully,
to dominate it as they have been dominated by ruthless
masters. When they give it rein, their actions are as warped


a rousing and courageous note that had an emancipating
force. Such words were the symbols of actual tyranny; scof-
fing at them involved the risk of torture and death. In the
twentieth century the object of laughter is not the conform-
ing multitude but rather the eccentric who still ventures to
think autonomously. 10 That this intellectual sidling up to
anti-intellectualism expresses a literary tendency of today, is
evidenced by Charles Beard's quoting Eastman's views with
assent. 11 However, the tendency is far from being typical of
the national spirit, as these authors seem to intimate. Open-
ing the very first volume of Emerson, we find something that
Eastman would call 'an intrusion from the "absolute"':
'Whilst we behold unveiled the nature of Justice and Truth,
we learn the difference between the absolute and the condi-
tional or relative. We apprehend the absolute. As it were,
"for the first time, we exist/ M This motive remained a guid-
ing idea of Emerson's whole work.

The spiteful use of the mimetic urge explains certain
traits of modern demagogues. They are often described as
ham actors. One might think of Goebbels. In appearance
he was a caricature of the Jewish salesman whose liquidation
he advocated. Mussolini reminded one of a provincial prima
donna or a comic-opera corporal of the guard. Hitler's bag
of tricks seems almost to have been stolen from Charlie
Chaplin. His abrupt and exaggerated gestures were remi-
niscent of Chaplin's caricatures of strong men in the early
slapstick comedies. Modern demagogues usually behave

10 On the different functions of skepticism in history, cf. Max Hork-
heimer, 'Montaigne und die Funktion der Skepsis' (English abstract,
'Montaigne and the Changing Role of Skepticism'), Zeitschiift fur Sozial-
forsclmng, vn, 1938, i ft.

11 The American Spirit, New York, 1942, p. 664.
^Op.cit i,p. 57.


and terrible as the excesses of slaves become tyrants. Power
is the one thing they really respect and therefore seek to

This explains the tragic impotence of democratic argu-
ments whenever they have had to compete with totalitarian
methods. Under the Weimar Republic,, for instance, the
German people seemed loyal to the constitution and a
democratic way of life as long as they believed that these
were backed by real power. As soon as the ideals and prin-
ciples of the Republic came into conflict with the interests
of economic forces that represented a greater strength, the
totalitarian agitators had an easy time of it Hitler appealed
to the unconscious in his audience by hinting that he could
forge a power in whose name the ban on repressed nature
would be lifted. Rational persuasion can never be as effec-
tive, because it is not congenial to the repressed primitive
urges of a superficially civilized people. Nor can democracy
hope to emulate totalitarian propaganda, unless it under-
takes to compromise the democratic way of life by stimulat-
ing destructive unconscious forces.

If the propaganda of the democratic nations had pre-
sented the recent world conflict chiefly as an issue between
two races, rather than as involving mainly ideals and
political interests, it might have been in many cases easier
to evoke the most potent martial impulses in their citizenry.
But the danger is that these very impulses may eventually
prove fatal to Western civilization. On such occasions the
term "another race* assumes the meaning of 'a lower species
than man and thus mere nature/ Some among the masses
seize the opportunity to identify themselves with the official
social ego and as such cany out with fury what the personal


ego has been unable to achieve the disciplining of nature,
domination over instincts. They fight nature outside In-
stead of inside themselves. The superego, impotent in Its
own house, becomes the hangman in society. These indi-
viduals obtain the gratification of feeling themselves as
champions of civilization simultaneously with letting loose
their repressed desires, Since their fury does not overcome
their inner conflict, and since there are always plenty of
others on whom to practice, this routine of suppression is
repeated over and over again. Thus it tends toward total


fj f

The relation of National Socialism to the rebellion of
nature was complex. Since such rebellion, though 'genuine/
always involves a regressive element, it is from the outset
suitable for use as an instrument of reactionary ends. But
today reactionary ends are accompanied by strict organiza-
tion and ruthless rationalization, by "progress" in a certain
sense. Hence the 'natural* revolt was no more spontaneous
than the Nazi pogroms that at a given moment were ordered
or called off from above. Though the ruling cliques were
not exclusively responsible for the occurrences, since a great
part of the population condoned even when it did not
actively participate in them, these atrocities, however 'natu-
ral/ were switched on and directed according to a highly
rational plan. In modern fascism, rationality has reached a
point at which it is no longer satisfied with simply repressing
nature; rationality now exploits nature by incorporating into
its own system the rebellious potentialities of nature. The
Nazis manipulated the suppressed desires of the German
people. When the Nazis and their industrial and military
backers launched their movement, they had to enlist the


masses, whose material interests were not theirs. They ap-
pealed to the backward strata doomed by industrial develop-
ment, that is, squeezed out by the techniques of mass pro-
duction. Here, among the peasants, middle-class artisans,
retailers, housewives, and small manufacturers, were to be
found the protagonists of repressed nature, the victims of
instrumentalized reason. Without the active support of
these groups, the Nazis could never have gained power*

Repressed natural drives were harnessed to the needs of
Nazi rationalism. And their very assertion led to their de-
nial. The small producers and merchants who rallied to the
Nazis lost all remnants of independence and were reduced
to functionaries of the regime. Not only was their specific
psychological 'nature* abolished, but in the process of their
being rationally co-ordinated their material interests suf-
fered; their standard of living was lowered. In the same
way, the rebellion against institutionalized law changed into
lawlessness and release of brute force in the service of the
powers that be. The moral is plain: the apotheosis of the
ego and the principle of self-preservation as such culminate
in the utter insecurity of the individual, in his complete ne-
gation. Clearly, the Nazi rebellion of nature against civili-
zation was more than an ideological facade. Individuality
cracked under the impact of the Nazi system, yielding some-
thing that is close to the atomized, anarchic human being
what Spengler once called the 'new raw man/ The revolt
of natural man in the sense of the backward strata of the
population against the growth of rationality has actually
furthered the formalization of reason, and has served to fet-
ter rather than to free nature. In this light, we might de-
scribe fascism as a satanic synthesis of reason and nature


the very opposite of that reconciliation of the two poles
that philosophy has always dreamed of.

Such is the pattern of every so-called revolt of nature
throughout history. Whenever nature is exalted as a su-
preme principle and becomes the weapon of thought against
thinking, against civilization, thought manifests a kind of
hypocrisy, and so develops an uneasy conscience. For it has
largely accepted the very principle that it is ostensibly com-
bating. In this respect, there is little difference between the
eulogies of a Roman court poet regarding the virtues of
rustic life and the prating of German heavy industrialists
about blood and soil and the blessing of a nation of healthy
peasants. Both serve imperialist propaganda. Indeed, the
Nazi regime as a revolt of nature became a lie the moment
it became conscious of itself as a revolt. The lackey of
the very mechanized civilization that it professed to re-
ject, it took over the inherently repressive measures of the

In America the problem of the revolt of nature is essen-
tially different from that in Europe, because in this country
the tradition of a metaphysical speculation that regards
nature as a mere product of the spirit is far weaker than it
is on the older continent But the tendency to real domina-
tion of nature is equally strong, and for that reason the
structure of American thinking also reveals the fatal inti-
mate connection between domination of nature and revolt
of nature. This connection is perhaps most striking in
Darwinism, which has possibly influenced American think-
ing more than any other single intellectual force except the
theological heritage. Pragmatism owed its inspiration to the
theory of evolution and adaptation, as derived either directly


from Darwin or through some philosophical intermediary,
particularly Spencer.

Because of its inherent humility toward nature, Darwin-
ism could help in the task reconciling it with man. When-
ever this theory encourages the spirit of humility, and it
has done so on many occasions, it is definitely superior to
opposite doctrines and corresponds to the element of re-
sistance discussed above in relation to the ego. However,
popular Darwinism, which permeates many aspects of the
mass culture and public ethos of our time, does not exhibit
this humility. The doctrine of 'survival of the fittest* is no
longer a theory of organic evolution making no pretense of
imposing ethical imperatives upon society. No matter how
expressed, the idea has become the prime axiom of conduct
and ethics.

To have Darwinism counted amcjjig the philosophies
that reflect the revolt of nature agamst reason may be sur-
prising, as this revolt is usually associated with romanticism,
sentimental discontent with civilization, and the desire to
recall primitive stages of society or human nature. Dar-
win's doctrine is certainly devoid of such sentimentality.
Not at all romantic, it belongs to the main growth of
Enlightenment Darwin broke with a fundamental dogma
of Christianity that God created man in his own image.
At the same time he struck at metaphysical concepts of
evolution, as they had prevailed from Aristotle to Hegel.
He conceived of evolution as a blind sequence of events, in
which survival depends upon adaptation to the conditions
of life, rather than as the unfolding of organic entities in
accordance with their entelechies.

Darwin was essentially a physical scientist, not a philoso-


pher. Despite his own personal religious feeling, the phi-
losophy underlying his ideas was plainly positivist TTius
his name has come to represent the idea of man's domina-
tion of nature in terms of common sense. One may even
go so far as to say that the concept of the survival of the
fittest is merely the translation of the concepts of formal-
ized reason into the vernacular of natural history. In popu-
lar Darwinism, reason is purely an organ; spirit or mind, a
thing of nature. According to a current interpretation of
Darwin, the struggle for life must necessarily, step "by step,
through natural selection, produce the reasonable out of
the unreasonable. In other words, reason, while serving the
function of dominating nature, is whittled down to being a
part of nature; it is not an independent faculty but some-
thing organic, Eke tentacles or hands, developed through
adaptation to natural conditions and surviving because it
proves to be an adequate means of mastering them, espe-
cially in relation to acquiring food and averting danger. As
a part of nature, reason is at the same time set against nature
the competitor and enemy of all life that is not its own.

The idea inherent in all idealistic metaphysics that the
world is in some sense a product of the mind is thus
turned into its opposite: the mind is a product of the
world, of the processes of nature. Hence, according to popu-
lar Darwinism, nature does not need philosophy to spealc
for her: nature, a powerful and venerable deity, is ruler
rather than ruled, Darwinism comes ultimately to the aid
of rebellious nature in undermining any doctrine, theo-
logical or philosophical, that regards nature itself as ex-
pressing a truth that reason must try to recognize. The
equating of reason and nature, by which reason is debased


and raw nature exalted, is a typical fallacy of the era of ra-
tionalization. Instrumentalized subjective reason either
eulogizes nature as pure vitality or disparages it as brute
force, instead of treating it as a text to be interpreted by
philosophy that, if rightly read, will unfold a tale of in-
finite suffering. Without committing the fallacy of equating
nature and reason, mankind must try to reconcile the two.

In traditional theology and metaphysics, the natural was
largely conceived as the evil, and the spiritual or super-
natural as the good. In popular Darwinism, the good is the
well-adapted, and the value of that to which the organism
adapts itself is unquestioned or is measured only in terms
of further adaptation. However, being well adapted to
one's surroundings is tantamount to being capable of coping
successfully with them, of mastering the forces that beset
one. Thus the theoretical denial of the spirit's antagonism
to nature even as implied in the doctrine of interrelation
between the various forms of organic life, including man-
frequently amounts in practice to subscribing to the prin-
ciple of man's continuous and thoroughgoing domination
of nature. Regarding reason as a natural organ does not
divest it of the trend to domination or invest it with greater
potentialities for reconciliation. On the contrary, the ab-
dication of the spirit in popular Darwinism entails the re-
jection of any elements of the mind that transcend the
function of adaptation and consequently are not instru-
ments of self-preservation. Reason disavows its own pri-
macy and professes to be a mere servant of natural selec-
tion. On the surface, this new empirical reason seems more
humble toward nature than the reason of the metaphysical
tradition. Actually, however, it is arrogant, practical mind


riding roughshod over the 'useless spiritual/ and dismissing
any view of nature in which the latter is taken to be more
than a stimulus to human activity. The effects of this view
are not confined to modern philosophy.

The doctrines that exalt nature or prirnitivism at the ex-
pense of spirit do not favor reconciliation with nature, on
the contrary, they emphasize coldness and blindness toward
nature. Whenever man deliberately makes nature his prin-
ciple, he regresses to primitive urges. Children are cruel in
mimetic reactions, because they do not really understand
the plight of nature. Almost like animals, they often treat
one another coldly and carelessly, and we know that even
gregarious animals are isolated when they are together. Ob-
viously, individual isolation is much more marked among
nongregarious animals and in groups of animals of different
species. All this, however, seems to a certain extent inno-
cent Animals, and in a way even children, do not reason.
The philosopher's and politician's abdication of reason by a
surrender to reality extenuates a much worse form of regres-
sion and inevitably culminates in a confusing of philosophi-
cal truth with ruthless self-preservation and wan

In summary, we are the heirs, for better or worse, of the
Enlightenment and technological progress. To oppose these
by regressing to more primitive stages does not alleviate the
permanent crisis they have brought about. On the contrary,
such expedients lead from historically reasonable to utterly
barbaric forms of social domination. The sole way of as-
sisting nature is to unshackle its seeming opposite, independ-
ent thought


rr-i HE crisis of reason is manifested in the crisis of the indi-
JL vidual, as whose agency it has developed. The illusion
that traditional philosophy has cherished about the individ-
ual and about reason the illusion of their eternity is being
dispelled. The individual once conceived of reason exclu-
sively as an instrument of the self. Now he experiences the
reverse of this self-deification. The machine has dropped
the driver; it is racing blindly into space. At the moment of
consummation, reason has become irrational and stultified.
The theme of this time is self-preservation, while there is no
self to preserve. In view of this situation, it behooves us to
reflect upon the concept of the individual.

When we speak of the individual as a historical entity, we
mean not merely the space-time and the sense existence of
a particular member of the human race, but, in addition, his
awareness of his own individuality as a conscious human
being, including recognition of his own identity. This per-
ception of the identity of the self is not equally strong in all
persons. It is more clearly defined in adults than in chil-
dren, who must learn to call themselves T the most ele-
mentary affirmation of identity. It is likewise weaker among
primitive than among civilized men; indeed, the aborigine



who has only recently been exposed to the dynamic of
Western civilization often seems very uncertain of his iden-
tity. Living in the gratifications and frustrations of the
moment, he seems but dimly aware that as an individual he
must go on to face the hazards of tomorrow. This kg, it
need hardly be said, partly accounts for the common belief
that these people are lazy or that they are liars a reproach
that presupposes in the accused the very sense of identity
they lack. The qualities found in extreme form among op-
pressed peoples, such as the Negroes, are also manifested,
as a tendency, in persons of oppressed social classes that
kck the economic fundament of inherited property. Thus,
stunted individuality is found also among the poor white
population of the American South. If these submerged
people were not conditioned to imitation of their superiors,
blatant advertising or educational appeals exhorting them to
cultivation of personality would inevitably seern to them
condescending, not to say hypocritical an effort to lull
them into a state of delusional contentment

Individuality presupposes the voluntary sacrifice of im-
mediate satisfaction for the sake of security, material and
spiritual maintenance of one's own existence. When the
roads to such a life are blocked, one has little incentive to
deny oneself momentary pleasures. Hence, individuality
among the masses is far less integrated and enduring than
among the so-called elite. On the other hand, the elite have
always been more preoccupied with the strategies of gaining
and holding power. Social power is today more than ever
mediated by power over things. The more intense an in-
dividual's concern with power over things, the more will
things dominate him, the more will he kck any genuine


individual traits, and the more will his mind be transformed
into an automaton of formalized reason.

The stoiy of the individual, even in ancient Greece, which
not only created the concept of individuality but set the
patterns for Western culture, is still largely unwritten.
The model of the emerging individual is the Greek hero.
Daring and self-reliant, he triumphs in the struggle for sur-
vival and emancipates himself from tradition as well as from
the tribe. To historians like Jacob Burckhardt, such a hero
is the incarnation of an unbridled and naive egoism. Never-
theless, while his boundless ego radiates the spirit of domi-
nation and intensifies the antagonism of the individual to
the community and its mores, he remains unclear about the
nature of the conflict between his ego and the world, and
hence repeatedly falls prey to all kinds of intrigue. His awe-
inspiring deeds do not spring from some personally moti-
vated trait, such as malice or cruelty, but rather from a de-
sire to avenge a crime or ward off a curse. The concept of
heroism is inseparable from that of sacrifice. The tragic
hero originates in the conflict between the tribe and its
members, a conflict in which the individual is always de-
feated. One may say that the life of the hero is not so much
a manifestation of individuality as a prelude to its birth,
through the marriage of self-preservation and self-sacrifice.
The only one of Homer's heroes who strikes us as having
individuality, a mind of his own, is Ulysses, and he is 'too
wily to seem truly heroic.

The typical Greek individual came to flower in the age of
the polis, or city-state, with the crystallization of a burgher
class. In Athenian ideology the state was both superior and
antecedent to its citizens. But this predominance of the


polis facilitated rather than hindered the rise of the indi-
vidual: it effected a balance between the state and its mem-
bers, between individual freedom and communal welfare,
as nowhere more eloquently depicted than in the Funeral
Oration of Pericles. In a famous passage of the Politics/
Aristotle describes the Greek burgher as a type of indi-
vidual who, in possessing both the courage of the Euro-
pean and the intelligence of the Asiatic, that is, combining
the capacity for self-preservation with reflection, acquired
the ability to dominate others without losing his freedom.
The Hellenic race, he says, 'if it could be formed into one
state, would be able to rule the world/ 2 Time and again
when urban culture was at its peak, for instance in Florence
during the fifteenth century, a similar balance of psycho-
logical forces was achieved. The fortunes of the individual
have always been bound up with the development of urban
society. The city dweller is the individual par excellence.
The great individualists who were critical of city life, such
as Rousseau and Tolstoi, had their intellectual roots in
urban traditions; Thoreau's escape to the woods was con-
ceived by a student of the Greek polis rather than by a
peasant. In these men the individualistic dread of civiliza-
tion was nourished by its fruits. The antagonism between
individuality and the economic and social conditions of its
existence, as expressed by these authors, is an essential ele-
ment in individuality itself. Today, this antagonism is sup-
planted in the conscious minds of individuals by the desire
to adapt themselves to reality. This process is symptomatic

^-Politzca, vn, 7, 1327 b.

2 Transl. by Benjamin Jowett, in The Works of Aristotle, ed. by W. D.
Ross, Oxford, 1921, v. x.


of the present crisis of the individual, which in turn reflects
the breakdown of the traditional idea of the city that has
prevailed in occidental history for twenty-five centuries.

Plato made the first systematic attempt to forge a phi-
losophy of individuality in accordance with the ideals of
the polis. He conceived of man and the state as harmonious
and interdependent structures of intelligence, desire, and
courage, best organized when the division of labor corre-
sponded to the respective aspects of the tripartite psyche of
man. His Republic projects an equilibrium between in-
dividual liberty and group control in the interests of the
community. At every turn Plato tries to show the harmony
within the practical and the theoretical realm, and between
the two. In the practical realm, harmony is achieved by
assigning to each estate its function and its rights, and by
correlating the structure of society with the nature of its
members. In the theoretical realm, it is achieved through
a system that gives adequate scope to each 'form' in the
universal hierarchy and assures the 'participation' of each
individual in the ideal archetypes. Since this great chain of
being is eternal, the individual is predetermined. The value
of each being is assessed in the light of a pre-existing tele-

Much in Plato's ontology savors of archaic cosmogonies
in which all life and existence are ruled by irresistible and
inflexible forces; it is as senseless for a man to resist fate as
it is for any other organism in nature to resist the rhythm
of the seasons or the cycle of life and death. In admiring
the sweeping vistas of the Platonic universe, we must not
forget that they stem from and presuppose a society based
upon slave labor. On the one hand Plato points the way to


individualism, when he postulates that man makes himself,
at least to this extent, that he fulfils his innate potentialities.
On the other hand, Aristotle did not deviate from Plato's
doctrine when he taught that some are born slaves and
others free, and that the virtue of the slave, like that of
women and children, consists in obedience. According to
this philosophy, only free men can aspire to the kind of
harmony that comes from competition and agreement

Inherent in Plato's system is the idea of objective rather
than subjective or formalized reason. This orientation helps
to explain its concreteness and at the same time its distance
from human nature. An element of coldness is to be found
in many celebrated ontologies that emphasize the value of
harmonious personality even in the seemingly mild serenity
of Goethe, not to speak of the vision of the harmonious
cosmos in medieval philosophy. The personality is the
microcosm corresponding to an immutable social and nat-
ural hierarchy. Insistence upon any immutable order of the
universe, implying the static view of history, precludes hope
of a progressive emancipation of the subject from eternal
childhood in both community and nature. The transition
from objective to subjective reason was a necessary histor-
ical process.

It must be noted, however, even if only briefly, that the
concept of progress is no less problematical and cold. If the
ontologies hypostatize the forces of nature indirectly by
means of objectivized concepts, and thus favor man's domi-
nation of nature, the doctrine of progress directly hyposta-
tizes the ideal of the domination of nature and finally itself
degenerates into a static, derivative mythology. Motion as
such, abstracted from its social context and its human goal,


becomes merely an illusion of motion, the bad infinity of
mechanical repetition. The elevation of progress to the
status of a supreme ideal disregards the contradictory char-
acter of any progress, even that in a dynamic society. It is
not accident that in the basic text of Western philosophy,
Aristotle's Metaphysics, the idea of universal dynamism
could be directly related to an immovable First Mover.
The circumstance that the blind development of technology
strengthens social oppression and exploitation threatens at
every stage to 'transform progress into its opposite, complete
barbarism. Both static ontology and the doctrine of prog-
ressboth objectivistic and subjectivistic forms of philos-
ophyforget man.

Socrates who is less formal, more 'negative' than his dis-
ciples, Plato and Aristotle was. the true herald of the
abstract idea of individuality, the first to affirjn explicitly
the autonomy of the individual. Socrates' affirmation of
conscience raised the relation between the individual and
the universal to a new level. The balance was no longer in-
ferred from the established harmony within the polis; on
the contrary, the universal was now conceived as an inner,
almost self-authenticating truth, lodged in man's spirit
For Socrates, following in the line of the speculations of the
great Sophists, to desire or even to do the right thing with-
out reflection was not enough. Conscious choice was a pre-
requisite of the ethical way of life. Thus he clashed with
the Athenian judges, who represented hallowed custom and
cult. His trial 3 seems to mark the point in cultural^ history
at which the individual conscience and the state, the ideal
and the real, begin to be separated as by a gulf. The subject

3 Cf . analysis of the trial of Socrates in Hegel's History of Philosophy.


begins to think of himself as opposed to outward reality
as the highest of all ideas. Gradually, as his importance in
the ancient world continued to wax, interest in the existent
waned. More and more, philosophy tended to take on the
character of a quest for consolation through inner harmo-
nies. Hellenistic society is permeated with post-Socratic
philosophies of resignation, such as the Stoa, that assure
man that his highest good lies in self-sufficiency (autarchy),
attainable by desiring nothing, not by possessing everything
essential to an independent life. Such counsel of apathy
and avoidance of pain led to dissociating the individual
from the community, and the concomitant dissociation of
the ideal from the real. In relinquishing his prerogative of
shaping reality in the image of truth, the individual submits
himself to tyranny.

There is a moral in all this: individuality is impaired when
each man decides to shift for himself. As the ordinary man
withdraws from participation in political affairs, society
tends to revert to the law of the jungle, which crushes all
vestiges of individuality. The absolutely isolated individual
has always been an fusion. The most esteemed personal
qualities, such as independence, will to freedom, sympathy,
and the sense of justice, are social as well as individual vir-
tues. The fully developed individual is the consummation
of a fully developed society. The emancipation of the in-
dividual is not an emancipation from society, but the de-
liverance of society from atomization, an atomization that
may reach its peak in periods of collectivization and mass

The Christian individual emerged from the ruins of Hel-
lenistic society. It might be thought that in the face of an


infinite and transcendent God, the Christian individual is
infinitely small and helpless that he is a contradiction in
terms, since the price of eternal salvation is complete self-
renunciation. In actual fact, the aspiration to individuality
was strengthened immeasurably by the doctrine that life on ,
earth is a mere interlude in the eternal story of the soul.
The value of the soul was enhanced by the idea of equality
Implied in God r s creation of man in his own image and in
Christ's atonement for all mankind. The very concept of
the soul as the inner light, the dwelling place of God, came
into being only with Christianity, and all antiquity has an
element of emptiness and aloofness by contrast Some of
the Gospel teachings and stories about the simple fishermen
and carpenters of Galilee seem to make Greek masterpieces
mute and soulless- lacking that very 'inner light' and the
leading figures of anfiquity roughhewn and barbaric.

In Christianity the human ego and finite nature are not
at odds as they were in rigorous Hebraic monotheism. Be-
cause Christ is the mediator between infinite truth and finite

human existence, traditional Augustinianism, which exalts
the soul and condemns nature, ultimately lost to Thomistic
Aristotelianism, which is a grand design for reconciling the
ideal and the empirical worlds. Christianity, in sharp con-
trast with competing world religions and Hellenistic ethical
philosophies, associates renunciation, the mastering of nat-
Cural drives, with universal love, which suffuses every act.
The idea of self-preservation is transformed into a meta-
physical principle that guarantees the eternal life of the
soul; by the very devaluation of his empirical ego, the indi-
vidual acquires a new depth and complexity.
Just as the mind is nothing but an element of nature so


long as it perseveres in its opposition to nature, so the in-
dividual is nothing but a biological specimen so long as he
is merely the incarnation of an ego defined by the co-
ordination of his functions in the service of self-preservation.
Man emerged as an individual when society began to lose
its cohesiveness and he became aware of the difference be-
tween his life and that of the seemingly eternal collectivity.
Death took on a stark and implacable aspect, and the life of
the individual became an irreplaceable absolute value.
Hamlet, often called the first truly modern individual, is
the embodiment of the idea of individuality for the very
reason that he fears the finality of death, the terror of the
abyss. The profundity of his metaphysical reflections, the
subtle shadings of his mind, presuppose the conditioning of
Christianity. Although Hamlet, a good disciple of Mon-
taigne, lost his Christian faith, he retained his Christian soul,
and in a way this marks the actual origin of the modern
individual. Christianism created the principle of individual-
ity through its doctrine of the immortal soul, an image of
God. But at the same time Christianism relativized the con-
crete mortal individuality. Renaissance humanism preserves
Cthe infinite value of the individual as conceived by Christian-
ism but absolutizes it, thus fully crystallizing it but also pre-
paring its destruction. To Hamlet, the individual is both
the absolute entity and completely futile.

By the very negation of the will to self-preservation on
earth in favor of the preservation of the eternal soul, Chris-
tianity asserted the infinite value of each man, an idea that
penetrated even non-Christian or anti-Christian systems of
the Western world. True, the price was the repression of
vital instincts, and since such repression is never successful


an insincerity that pervades our culture. Nevertheless, this
very interaalization enhances individuality. By negating
himself, by imitating Christ's sacrifice, the individual simul-
taneously acquires a new dimension and a new ideal on
which to pattern his life on earth.

It could be shown that the Christian doctrine of love, of
caritas, which was at first welcomed by those in power,
later gained a momentum of its own, and that the Christian
soul finally came to resist the very agency that had nour-
ished it and propagated the idea of its supremacy, namely,
the Church. The Church extended its sway over the inner
life, a sphere not invaded by social institutions of classical
antiquity. By the end of the Middle Ages, church controls,
both temporal and spiritual, were increasingly evaded. There
is a striking parallelism between the Reformation and the
philosophical Enlightenment with respect to the idea of the

In the era of free enterprise, the so-called era of individual-
ism, individuality was most completely subordinated to self-
preserving reason. In that era, the idea of individuality
seemed to shake itself loose from metaphysical trappings
and to become merely a synthesis of the individual's mate-
rial interests. That it was not thereby saved from being
used as a pawn by ideologists needs no proof. Individual-
ism is the very heart of the theory and practice of bourgeois
liberalism, which sees society as progressing through the
automatic interaction of divergent interests in a free mar-
ket The individual could maintain himself as a social be-
ing only by pursuing his own long-term interests at the ex-
pense of ephemeral immediate gratifications. The qualities
of individuality forged by the ascetic discipline of Christian-


ity were thereby reinforced. The bourgeois individual did
not necessarily see himself as opposed to the collectivity, but
believed or was prevailed upon to believe himself to be a
member of a society that could achieve the highest degree
of harmony only through the unrestricted competition of
individual interests.

Liberalism may be said to have considered itself the spon-
sor of a Utopia that had come true, needing little more than
the smoothing out of a few troublesome wrinkles. These
wrinkles were not to be blamed on the liberalistic principle,
but on the regrettable nonliberalistic obstacles that impeded
its complete fruition. The principle of liberalism has led to
conformity through the leveling principle of commerce and
exchange which held liberalistic society together. The
monad, a seventeenth-century symbol of the atomistic eco-
nomic individual of bourgeois society, became a social type.
All the monads, isolated though they were by moats of
self-interest, nevertheless tended to become more and more
alike through the pursuit of this very self-interest. In our
era of large economic combines and mass culture, the prin-
ciple of conformity emancipates itself from its individualistic
veil, is openly proclaimed, and raised to the rank of an ideal

Liberalism at its dawn was characterized by the existence
of a multitude of independent entrepreneurs, who took care
of their own property and defended it against antagonistic
social forces. The movements of the market and the general
trend of production were rooted in the economic require-
ments of their enterprises. Merchant and manufacturer
alike had to be prepared for all economic and political
eventualities. This need stimulated them to learn what


they could from the past and to formulate plans for the
future. They had to think for themselves, and although the
much-vaunted independence of their thinking was to a cer-
tain extent nothing more than an illusion, it had enough
objectivity to serve the interests of society in a given form
and at a given period. The society of middle-class propri-
etors, particularly those who acted as middlemen in trade
and certain types of manufacturers, had to encourage inde-
pendent thinking, even though it might be at variance with
their particular interests. The enterprise itself, which, it was
assumed, would be handed down in the family, gave a
businessman's deliberations a horizon that extended far be-
yond his own life span. His individuality was that of a pro-
vider, proud of himself and his kind, convinced that com-
munity and state rested upon himself and others like him,
all professedly animated by the incentive of material gain.
His sense of adequacy to the challenges of an acquisitive
world expressed itself in his strong yet sober ego, maintain-
ing interests that transcended his immediate needs.

In this age of big business, the independent entrepreneur
is no longer typical. The ordinary man finds it harder and
harder to plan for his heirs or even for his own remote
future. The contemporary individual may have more op-
portunities than his ancestors had, but his concrete pros-
pects have an increasingly shorter term. The future does
not enter as precisely into his transactions. He simply
feds that he will not be entirely lost if he preserves his skill
and clings to his corporation, association, or union. Thus
the individual subject of reason tends to become a shrunken
ego, captive of an evanescent present, forgetting the use of
the intellectual functions by which he was once able to


transcend his actual position in reality. These functions are
now taken over by the great economic and social forces of
the era. The future of the individual depends less and less
upon his own prudence and more and more upon the na-
tional and international struggles among the colossi of
power. Individuality loses its economic basis.

There are still some forces of resistance left within man.
It is evidence against social pessimism that despite the con-
tinuous assault of collective patterns, the spirit of humanity
is still alive, if not in the individual as a member of social
groups, at least in the individual as far as he is let alone. But
the impact of the existing conditions upon the average
man's life is such that the submissive type mentioned earlier
has become overwhelmingly predominant. From the day
of his birth, the individual is made to feel that there is only
one way of getting along in this world that of giving up his
hope of ultimate self-realization. This he can achieve solely
by imitation. He continuously responds to what he per-
ceives about him, not only consciously but with his whole
being, emulating the traits and attitudes represented by all
the collectivities that enmesh him his play group, his class-
mates, his athletic team, and all the other groups that, as
has been pointed out, enforce a more strict conformity, a
more radical surrender through complete assimilation, than
any father or teacher in the nineteenth century could im-
pose. By echoing, repeating, imitating his surroundings, by
adapting himself to all the powerful groups to which he
eventually belongs, by transforming himself from a human
being into a member of organizations, by sacrificing his po-
tentialities for the sake of readiness and ability to conform
to and gain influence in such organizations, he manages to


survive. It is survival achieved by the oldest biological
means of survival, namely, mimicry.

Just as a child repeats the words of his mother, and the
youngster the brutal manners of the elders at whose hands
he suffers, so the giant loud-speaker of industrial culture,
blaring through commercialized recreation and popular ad-
vertisingwhich become more and more indistinguishable
from each other endlessly reduplicates the surface of reality.
All the ingenious devices of the amusement industry repro-
duce over and over again banal life scenes that are deceptive
nevertheless, because the technical exactness of the repro-
duction veils the falsification of the ideological content or
the arbitrariness of the introduction of such content This
reproduction has nothing in common with great realistic
art, which portrays reality in order to judge it. Modern mass
culture, although drawing freely upon stale cultural values,
glorifies the world as it is. Motion pictures, the radio, popu-
lar biographies and novels have the same refrain: This is
our groove, this is the rut of the great and the would-be
great this is reality as it is and should be and will be.

Even the words that could voice a hope for something
besides the fruits of success have been pressed into this
service. The idea of eternal bliss and everything relating to
the absolute have been reduced to the function of religious
edification, conceived as a leisure-time activity; they have
been made part of the Sunday-school vernacular. The idea
of happiness has similarly been reduced to a banality to
coincide with leading the kind of normal life that serious
religious thought has often criticized. The very idea of truth
has been reduced to the purpose of a useful tool in the
control of nature, and the realization of the infinite poten-


tialities inherent in man has been relegated to the status
of a luxury. Thought that does not serve the interests of
any established group or is not pertinent to the business of
any industry has no place, is considered vain or superfluous.
Paradoxically, a society that, in the face of starvation in great
areas of the world, allows a large part of its machinery to
stand idle, that shelves many important inventions, and that
devotes innumerable working hours to moronic advertising
and to the production of instruments of destruction a so-
ciety in which these luxuries are inherent has made useful-
ness its gospel.

Because modern society is a totality, the decline of in-
dividuality affects the lower as well as the higher social
groups, the worker no less than the businessman. One of
the most important attributes of individuality, that of spon-
taneous action, which began to decline in capitalism as a
result of the partial elimination of competition, played an
integral part in socialist theory. But today the spontaneity
of the working class has been impaired by the general disso-
lution of individuality. Labor is increasingly divorced from
critical theories as they were formulated by the great politi-
cal and social thinkers of the nineteenth century. Influ-
*ential labor leaders who are known as champions of progress
attribute the victory of fascism in Germany to the emphasis
laid upon theoretical thinking by the German working class.
As a matter of fact not theory but its decline furthers sur-
render to the powers that be, whether they are represented
by the controlling agencies of capital or those of labor.
However, the masses, despite their pliability, have not capit-
ulated completely to collectivization. Although, under the
pressure of the pragmatic reality of today, man's self-ex-


pression has become identical with his function in the pre-
vailing system, although he desperately represses any other
impulse within himself as well as in others, the rage that
seizes him whenever he becomes aware of an unintegrated
longing that does not fit into the existing pattern is a sign
of his smoldering resentment. This resentment, if repres-
sion were abolished, would be turned against the whole
social order, which has an intrinsic tendency to prevent its
members from gaining insight into the mechanisms of their
own repression. Throughout history, physical, organiza-
tional, and cultural pressures have always had their role in
the integration of the individual into a just or unjust order;
today, the labor organizations, in their very effort to improve
the status of labor, are inevitably led to contribute to that

There is a crucial difference between the social units of
the modern industrial era and those of earlier epochs. The
units of the older societies were totalities, in the sense that
they had grown into hierarchically organized entities. The
life of the totemistic tribe, the clan, the church of the
Middle Ages, the nation in the era of the bourgeois revolu-
tions, followed ideological patterns shaped through his-
torical developments. Such patterns magical, religious, or*
philosophical reflected current forms of social domination.
They constituted a cultural cement even after their role
in production had become obsolete; thus they also fos-
tered the idea of a common truth. This they did by the
very fact that they had become objectified. Any system of
ideas, religious, artistic, or logical, so far as it is articulated
in meaningful language, attains a general connotation and
necessarily claims to be true in a universal sense.


The objective and universal validity claimed for the ide-
ologies of the older collective units constituted an essential
condition of their existence in the body of society. But the
patterns of organization, such as that of the medieval
Church, did not point for point coincide with the forms
of material life. Only the hierarchical structure and the
ritual functions of both clergy and laity were strictly regu-
lated. Apart from that, neither life itself nor its intellectual
framework was completely integrated. The basic spiritual
concepts were not entirely amalgamated with pragmatic
considerations; thus they maintained a certain autonomous
character. There was still a cleavage between culture and
production. This cleavage left more loopholes than modern
superorganization, which virtually reduces the individual to
a mere cell of functional response. Modern organizational
units, such as the totality of labor, are organic parts of the
socio-economic system.

The earlier totalities, which were supposed to conform to
an abstract spiritual model, contained an element that is
lacking in the purely pragmatistic totalities of industrial-
ism. The latter likewise have a hierarchical structure; but
they are thoroughly and despotically integrated. For exam-
ple, promotion of their functionaries to higher ranks is not
based on qualifications related to any spiritual ideals. Al-
most exclusively it is a matter of their ability to manipulate
people; here purely administrative and technical skills de-
termine the selection of governing personnel. Such capaci-
ties were by no means lacking in the hierarchical leadership
of former societies; but the dissolution of relation between
leadership capacities and an objectivized framework of spir-
itual ideals is what gives the modern totalities their distinc-


tive character, The modern Church represents a carry-over
of the older forms; this survival rests, however, on extensive
adaptation to the purely mechanical conception which, in-
cidentally, the inherent pragmatism of Christian theology
has helped to propagate.

Social theoryreactionary, democratic, or revolutionary
was the heir to the older systems of thought that were
supposed to have set the patterns for past totalities. These
older systems had vanished because the forms of solidarity
postulated by them proved to be deceptive, and the ideol-
ogies related to them became hollow and apologetic. The
latter-day critique of society for its part refrained from apolo-
getics, and did not glorify its subject not even Marx exalted
the proletariat He looked upon capitalism as the last form
of social injustice; he did not condone the established ideas
and superstitions of the dominated class whom his doctrine
was supposed to guide. In contrast to the tendencies of
mass culture, none of those doctrines undertook to 'sell'
the people the way of life in which they are fixed and which
they unconsciously abhor but overtly acclaim. Social theory
offered a critical analysis of reality, including the workers'
own warped thoughts. Under the conditions of modern in-
dustrialism, however, even political theory is infected with
the apologetic trend of the total culture.

This is not to say that a return to the older forms should
be desired. The clock cannot be put back, nor can organiza-
tional development be reversed or even theoretically re-
jected. The task of the masses today consists not in cling-
ing to traditional party patterns, but rather in recognizing
and resisting the monopolistic pattern that is infiltrating
their own organizations and infesting their minds individu-


ally. In the nineteenth-century concept of a rational society
of the future, the emphasis was on planning, organizing,
and centralizing mechanisms rather than on the plight of
the individual. The parliamentary workers' parties, them-
selves a product of liberalism, denounced liberalistic irra-
tionality and promoted a planned socialist economy in op-
position to anarchic capitalism. They promoted social or-
ganization and centralization as postulates of reason in an
age of unreason. Under the present form of industrialism,
however, the other side of rationality has become mani-
fest through the increasing suppression of it the role of
nonconforming critical thought in the shaping of social life,
of the spontaneity of the individual subject, of his opposition
to ready-made patterns of behavior. On the one hand, the
world is still divided into hostile groups and economic and
political blocks. This situation calls for organization and
centralization, which represent the element of the general
from the standpoint of reason. On the other hand, the hu-
man being is from his early childhood so thoroughly incor-
porated into associations, teams, and organizations that spe-
cificity (uniqueness), the element of particularity from the
standpoint of reason, is completely repressed or absorbed.
This applies to the worker as well as the entrepreneur. In
the nineteenth century the proletariat was still fairly amor-
phous. This was why, despite its being split into national
groups, skilled and unskilled labor, employed and unem-
ployed, its interests could be crystallized in terms of com-
mon economic and social concepts. The amorphousness of
the working population and its concomitant tendency to
theoretical thinking formed a contrast to the pragmatic
totalities of business leadership. The rise of the workers


from a passive to an active role in the capitalistic process has
been achieved at the price of integration in the general

The same process that, both in reality and in ideology,
has made labor an economic subject has transformed the
laborer, who was already the object of industry, into the
object of labor as well. As ideology has become more
realistic, more down-to-earth, its inherent contradiction to
reality, its absurdity, has increased. While the masses think
of themselves as the creators of their own destiny, they are
the objects of their leaders. Of course, anything that labor
leaders achieve secures some advantages to the workers, at
least temporarily. Neo-liberals who oppose unionism are
indulging in an obsolete romanticism, and their incursion
into economics is more dangerous than their activities in the
philosophical sphere. The fact that labor unions are
monopolistically organized does not mean that their mem-
bersaside from labor aristocracy are monopolists. It does
mean that the leaders control labor supply, as the heads of
great corporations control raw materials, machines, or other
elements of production. Labor leaders manage labor, ma-
nipulate it, advertise it, and try to fix its price as high as
possible. At the same time their own social and economic
power, their positions and incomes, all vastly superior to
the power, position, and income of the individual worker,
depend upon the industrialist system.

The fact that organizing labor is recognized as a business,
like that of any other corporate enterprise, completes the
process of the reification of man. A worker's productive
power today is not only bought by the factory and sub-
ordinated to the requirements of technology, but is ap-


portioned and managed by the leadership of the labor

As religious and moral ideologies fade, and political theory
is abolished by the march of economic and political events/
the ideas of the workers tend to be molded by the business
ideology of their leaders. The idea of an intrinsic conflict
between the laboring masses of the world and the existence
of social injustice is superseded by the concepts relat-
ing to the strategy of conflicts between the several power
groups. It is true that workers of earlier days did not have
any conceptual knowledge of the mechanisms unveiled
by social theory, and their minds and bodies bore the marks
of oppression; yet their misery was still the misery of in-
dividual human beings, and therefore linked them with any
miserable people in any country and in any sector of society.
Their undeveloped minds were not continually being
prodded by the techniques of mass culture that hammer the
industrialistic behavior patterns into their eyes and ears and
muscles during their leisure time as well as during working
hours. Workers today, no less than the rest of the popula-

4 The decline of theory and its replacement by empirical research in a
positivistic sense is reflected not only in political thought but also in
academic sociology. The concept of class in its universal aspect played an
essential role in American sociology when it was young. Later, emphasis
was laid upon investigations in the light of which such a concept appears
increasingly metaphysical. Theoretical concepts, which could link soci-
ological theory with philosophical thinking, have been replaced by signs for
groups of conventionally conceived facts. The basis of this development is
to be sought in the social process here described rather than in the progress
of sociological science. The period in which sociology believed in its larger
task of constructing theoretical systems of social structure and social change/
the era before the First World War, was marked *by the general belief that
theoretical sociology would somehow play a major constructive role in the
progressive development of our society; sociology had the grandiose ambi-
tions of youth 1 (Charles H. Page, Class and American Sociology, New
York, 1940, p. 249). Its current ambitions are certainly less grandiose.


tion, are intellectually better trained, better informed, and
much less naive. They know the details of national affairs
and the chicanery of political movements, particularly of
those that live by propaganda against corruption. The
workers, at least those who have not gone through the hell
of fascism, will join in any persecution of a capitalist or
politician who has been singled out because he has violated
the rules of the game; but they do not question the rules in
themselves. They have learned to take social injustice-
even inequity within their own group as a powerful fact,
and to take powerful facts as the only things to be respected.
Their minds are closed to dreams of a basically different
world and to concepts that, instead of being mere classifica-
tion of facts, are oriented toward real fulfilment of those
dreams. Modern economic conditions make for a posi-
tivistic attitude in members as well as in leaders of labor
unions, so that they resemble one another more and more.
Such a trend, although constantly challenged by con-
trary tendencies, strengthens labor as a new force in social

It is not that inequality has decreased. To the old dis-
crepancies between the social power of single members of
different social groups, further differences have been added.
While unions dealing in certain categories of labor have
been able to raise their prices, the whole weight of oppres-
sive social power is felt by other categories, organized or
unorganized. There is, furthermore, the cleavage between
members of unions and those who for any one of various
reasons are excluded from unions, between the people of
privileged nations and those who, in this contracting world,
are dominated not only by their own traditional elite, but


also by the ruling groups of the industrially more developed
countries. The principle has not changed.

At the present time, labor and capital are equally con-
cerned with holding and extending their control. The
leaders in both groups contend to an increasing extent that
theoretical critique of society has become superfluous as a
result of the tremendous technological progress that prom-
ises to revolutionize the conditions of human existence. The
technocrats maintain that superabundance of goods pro-
duced on super-assembly lines will automatically eliminate
all economic misery. Efficiency, productivity, and intelligent
planning are proclaimed the gods of modem man; so-called
"unproductive" groups and 'predatory* capital are branded
as the enemies of society.

It is true that the engineer, perhaps the symbol of this
age, is not so exclusively bent on profitmaking as the in-
dustrialist or the merchant Because his function is more
directly connected with the requirements of the production
job itself, his commands bear the mark of greater ob-
jectivity. His subordinates recognize that at least some of
his orders are in the nature of things and therefore rational
in a universal sense. But at bottom this rationality, too, per-
tains to domination, not reason. The engineer is not in-
terested in understanding things for their own sake or for the
sake of insight, but in accordance with their being fitted into
a scheme, no matter how alien to their own inner structure;
this holds for living beings as well as for inanimate things.
The engineer's mind is that of industrialism in its stream-
lined form. His purposeful rule would make men an
agglomeration of instruments without a purpose of their



The deification of industrial activity knows no limits.
Relaxation comes to be regarded as a kind of vice so far as
it is not necessary to assure fitness for further activity,
'American philosophy/ says Moses F. Aronson, "postulates
the reality of an open and dynamic universe. A fluid universe
is not a place to rest in, nor does it encourage the esthetic
delight of passive contemplation. A world in constant
process of unfolding stimulates the active imagination and
invites the exercise of muscular intelligence/ 5 He feels that
pragmatism "reflects the characteristics of a frontier-nurtured,
athletic mentality grappling with the perplexities en-
gendered by the rising tide of industrialism swirling against
the background of a rural economy/ 6

However, the difference between the "frontier-nurtured
mentality' of the actual American pioneers and that of its
modern propagators seems a glaring one. The pioneers
themselves did not hypostatize means as ends. They em-
braced hard toil in their immediate struggle for survival; in
their dreams they may well have fantasied about the
pleasures of a less dynamic and much more restful uni-
verse. They probably made a value of "the esthetic delight
of passive contemplation' in their concepts of beatitude or
in their ideal of a culture to be achieved.

Their latest epigoni, when they adopt an intellectual pro-
fession in the modern division of labor, extol the obverse
values. By speaking of theoretical endeavors as 'muscular'
and "athletic/ and as in this sense a "spontaneous native
growth/ they are trying, as though with a twinge of bad
conscience, to hold on to their heritage of the "strenuous

* Cf. Charles Beard, The American Spirit, p. 666.
Ibid p. 665.


life' from the frontiersmen and also to assimilate their
language to the activistic vocabulary of manual occupations,
particularly of agricultural and industrial labor. They
glorify co-ordination and uniformity even in the realm of
ideas. Into the synthesis of American philosophy, Aronson
writes, "there entered, to be sure, a number of European
ingredients. These foreign components, however, were
taken up and fused into an autochthonous unity/ 7 The
nearer these coordinators come to attaining the potenti-
alities through which the earth could become a place of con-
templation and delight, the more they persist, as conscious
or unconscious followers of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, in
exalting the idea of the nation and the worship of eternal

It is not technology or the motive of self-preservation that
in itself accounts for the decline of the individual; it is not
production per se, but the forms in which it takes place
the interrelationships of human beings within the specific
framework of industrialism. Human toil and research and
invention is a response to the challenge of necessity. The
pattern becomes absurd only when people make toil, re-
search, and invention into idols. Such an ideology tends
to supplant the humanistic foundation of the very civiliza-
tion it seeks to glorify. While the concepts of complete
fulfilment and unrestrained enjoyment fostered a hope that
unshackled the forces of progress, the idolization of progress
leads to the opposite of progress. Arduous labor for a mean-
ingful end may be enjoyed and even loved. A philosophy
that makes labor an end in itself leads eventually to resent-
ment of all labor. The decline of the individual must be

7 Ibid.


charged not to the technical achievements of man or even
to man himself people are usually much better than what
they think or say or dobut rather to the present structure
and content of the 'objective mind/ the spirit that pervades
social life in all its branches. The patterns of thought and
action that people accept ready-made from the agencies of
mass culture act in their turn to influence mass culture as
though they were the ideas of the people themselves. The
objective mind in our era worships industry, technology,
and nationality without a principle that could give sense to
these categories; it mirrors the pressure of an economic sys-
tem that admits of no reprieve or escape.

As for the ideal of productivity, it must be observed that
economic significance today is measured in terms of use-
fulness with respect to the structure of power, not with
respect, to the needs of all. The individual must prove his
value to one or other of the groups engaged in the struggle
for a greater share of control over the national and the in-
ternational economy. Moreover, the quantity and quality
of the goods or services he contributes to society is merely
one of the factors determining his success.

Nor is efficiency, the modern criterion and sole justi-
fication for the very existence of any individual, to be con-
fused with real technical or managerial skill. It inheres
in the ability to be 'one of the boys/ to hold one's own, to
impress others, to 'sell' oneself, to cultivate the right con-
nectionstalents that seem to be transmitted through the
germ cells of so many persons today. The fallacy of techno-
cratic thinking from St. Simon to Veblen and his followers
has lain in underestimating the similarity of the traits that
make for success in the various branches of production and


business, and in confusing rational use of the means of pro-
duction with the rational proclivities of certain of its agents.

If modern society tends to negate all the attributes of in-
dividuality, are its members not compensated, it may be
asked, by the rationality of its organization? The techno-
crats often maintain that when their theories are put into
practice, depressions will become a thing of the past and
basic economic disproportions will disappear; the whole
productive mechanism will work smoothly according to
blueprints. Actually, modern society is not so far from
having realized the technocratic dream. The needs of the
consumers as well as of the producers, which under the
liberal market system made themselves felt in distorted
and irrational forms, in a process culminating in depressions,
can now to a great extent be forecast and satisfied or negated
in accordance with the policies of economic and political
leaders. The expression of human needs is no longer dis-
torted by the dubious economic indicators of the market;
instead, these needs are determined by statistics, and all
kinds of engineers industrial, technical, politicalstruggle
to keep them under control. But if this new rationality is
in one way closer to the idea of reason than the market sys-
tem, it is in another way farther from it

Dealings between the members of different social groups
under the older system were really determined not by the
market but by the unequal distribution of economic power;
yet the transformation of human relations into objective
economic mechanisms gave the individual, at least in prin-
ciple, a certain independence. When unsuccessful competi-
tors went to the wall or backward groups were reduced to
misery under the liberalistic economy, they could preserve


a sense of human dignity even though they were economi-
cally cast down, because responsibility for their plight could
be thrown upon anonymous economic processes. Today
individuals or entire groups may still suffer ruin through
blind economic forces; but these are represented by better
organized, more powerful elites. Although the interrelations
of these dominant groups are subject to vicissitudes, they
understand each other well in many respects. When con-
centration and centralization of industrial forces extinguish
political liberalism in its turn, the victims are doomed in
their entirety. Under totalitarianism, when an individual or
group is singled out by the elite for discrimination, it is not
only deprived of the means of livelihood, but its very
human essence is attacked. American society may take a
different course. However, the dwindling away of individual
thinking and resistance, as it is brought about by the eco-
nomic and cultural mechanisms of modern industrialism,
will render evolution toward the humane increasingly dif-

By making the watchword of production a kind of reli-
gious creed, by professing technocratic ideas and branding as
'unproductive' such groups as do not have access to the big
industrial bastions, industry causes itself and society to for-
get that production has become to an ever greater extent a
means in the struggle for power. The policies of economic
leaders, on which society in its present stage more and more
directly depends, are dogged and particularistic, and there-
fore perhaps even blinder with respect to the real needs of
society than were the automatic trends that once determined
the market Irrationality still molds the fate of men.

The age of vast industrial power, by eliminating the


perspectives of a stable past and future that grew out of
ostensibly permanent property relations, is in process of
liquidating the individual. The deterioration of his situa-
tion is perhaps best measured in terms of his utter insecurity
as regards his personal savings. As long as currencies were
rigidly tied to gold, and gold could flow freely over frontiers,
its value could shift only within narrow limits. Under
present-day conditions the dangers of inflation, of a sub-
stantial reduction or complete loss of the purchasing power
of his savings, lurk around the next corner. Private pos-
session of gold was the symbol of bourgeois rule. Gold made
the burgher somehow the successor of the aristocrat With
it he could establish security for himself and be reasonably
sure that even after his death his dependents would not be
completely sucked up by the economic system. His more
or less independent position, based on his right to exchange
goods and money for gold, and therefore on relatively stable
property values, expressed itself in the interest he took in the
cultivation of his own personality not, as today, in order
to achieve a better career or for any professional reason, but
for the sake of his own individual existence. The effort
was meaningful because the material basis of individuality
was not wholly unstable. Although the masses could not
aspire to the position of the burgher, the presence of a
relatively numerous class of individuals who were genuinely
interested in humanistic values formed the background for
the kind of theoretical thought as well as for the type of
manifestations in the arts that by virtue of their inherent
truth express the needs of society as a whole.

The state's restriction of the right to possess gold is the
symbol of a complete change. Even the members of the


middle class must resign themselves to insecurity. The in-
dividual consoles himself with the thought that his govern-
ment, corporation, association, union, or insurance com-
pany will take care of him when he becomes ill or reaches
the retiring age. The various laws prohibiting private
possession of gold symbolize the verdict against the inde-
pendent economic individual. Under liberalism, the beggar
was always an eyesore to the rentier. In the age of big busi-
ness both beggar and rentier are vanishing. There are no
safety zones on society's thoroughfares. Everyone must
keep moving. The entrepreneur has become a functionary,
the scholar a professional expert. The philosopher's maxim,
Bene qui latuit, bene vixzt, is incompatible with modern
business cycles. Everyone is under the whip of a superior
agency. Those who occupy the commanding positions have
little more autonomy than their subordinates; they are
bound down by the power they wield.

Every instrumentality of mass culture serves to reinforce
the social pressures upon individuality, precluding all pos-
sibility that the individual will somehow preserve himself
in the face of all the atomizing machinery of modern soci-
ety. The accent on individual heroism and on the self-made
man in popular biographies and pseudo-romantic novels
and films does not invalidate this observation. 8 These ma-
chine-made incentives to self-preservation actually acceler-
ate the dissolution of individuality. Just as the slogans of
rugged individualism are politically useful to large trusts in
seeking exemption from social control, so in mass culture
the rhetoric of individualism, by imposing patterns for col-

8 Cf. Leo Lowenthal: 'Biographies in Popular in Radio
Research, 1942-43, New York, 1944, pp. 507-48.


lective imitation, disavows the very principle to which it
gives lip service. If, in the words of Huey Long, every man
can be a king, why cannot every girl be a movie queen,
whose uniqueness consists in being typical?

The individual no longer has a personal history. Though
everything changes, nothing moves. He needs neither a
Zeno nor a Cocteau, neither an Eleatic dialectician nor a
Parisian surrealist, to tell what the Queen in Through the
LooHng Glass means when she says, 'It takes all the running
you can do to stay in the same place/ or what Lombroso's
madman expressed in his beautiful poem: 9

Noi confitti al nostro orgoglio
Come ruote in ferrei perni,
Ci stanchiamo in giri eterni,
Sempre enanti e sempre qui!

The objection that the individual, despite everything,
does not entirely disappear in lie new impersonal institu-
tions, that individualism is as rugged and rampant in mod-
ern society as ever before, seems to miss the point The
objection contains a grain of truth, namely, the considera-
tion that man is still better than the world he lives in. Yet
his life seems to follow a sequence that will fit any question-
naire he is asked to fill out. His intellectual existence is ex-
hausted in the public opinion polls. Especially the so-called
great individuals of today, the idols of the masses, are not
genuine individuals, they are simply creatures of their own
publicity, enlargements of their own photographs, functions
of social processes. The consummate superman, against
whom no one has warned more anxiously than Nietzsche

9 The Man of Genius, London, 1891, p. 366.


himself, is a projection of the oppressed masses, King Kong
rather than Caesar Borgia. 10 The hypnotic spell that such
counterfeit supermen as Hitler have exercised derives not so
much from what they think or say or do as from their antics,
which set a style of behavior for men who, stripped of their
spontaneity by the industrial processing, need to be told
how to make friends and influence people.

The tendencies described have already led to the greatest
catastrophe in European history. Some of the causes were
specifically European. Others are traceable to profound
changes in man's character under the influence of interna-
tional trends. Nobody can predict with certainty that these
destructive tendencies will be checked in the near future.
However, there is increasing awareness that the unbearable
pressure upon the individual is not inevitable. It is to be
hoped that men will come to see that it springs not di-
rectly from the purely technical requirements of the pro-
duction, but from the social structure. Indeed, the intensi-
fication of repression in many parts of the world in itself
testifies to fear in face of the imminent possibility of change
on the basis of the present development of productive
forces. Industrial discipline, technological progress, and sci-
entific enlightenment, the very economic and cultural pro-
cesses that are bringing about the obliteration of individual-
ity, promise though the augury is faint enough at present
to usher in a new era in which individuality may re-

10 Edgar Allan Poe said about greatness: 'That individuals have so soared
above the plane of their race, is scarcely to be questioned; but, in looking
back through history for traces of their existence, we should pass over all
biographies of "the good and the great," while we search carefully the
slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the
gaflows' (The Portable Poe, edited by Philip van Doren Stem, Viking Press,
New York, 1945, pp. 660-61).


emerge as an element in a less ideological and more humane
form of existence.

Fascism used terroristic methods in the effort to reduce
conscious human beings to social atoms, because it feared
that ever-increasing disillusionment as regards all ideologies
might pave the way for men to realize their own and so-
ciety's deepest potentialities; and indeed, in some cases,
social pressure and political terror have tempered the pro-
foundly human resistance to irrationality a resistance that
is always the core of true individuality.

The real individuals of our time are the martyrs who
have gone through infernos of suffering and degradation in
their resistance to conquest and oppression, not the inflated
personalities of popular culture, the conventional digni-
taries. These unsung heroes consciously exposed their ex-
istence as individuals to the terroristic annihilation that
others undergo unconsciously through the social process.
The anonymous martyrs of the concentration camps are
the symbols of the humanity that is striving to be born.
The task of philosophy is to translate what they have done
into language that will be heard, even though their finite
voices have been silenced by tyranny.


f 1 IHE formalization of reason leads to a paradoxical cul-
JL tural situation. On the one hand, the destructive
antagonism of self and nature, an antagonism epitomizing
the history of our civilization, reaches its peak in this era.
We have seen how the totalitarian attempt to subdue na-
ture reduced the ego, the human subject, to a mere tool of
repression. All the other functions of the self, as expressed
in general concepts and ideas, have been discredited. On
the other hand, philosophical thinking, whose task it is to
essay a reconciliation, has come to deny or to forget the
very existence of the antagonism. What is called philoso-
phy, together with all the other branches of culture, super-
ficially bridges the chasm and thus adds to the dangers.
An underlying assumption of the present discussion has
been that philosophical awareness of these processes may
help to reverse them.

Faith in philosophy means the refusal to permit fear to
stunt in any way one's capacity to think. Until recently in
Western history, society lacked sufficient cultural and tech-
nological resources for forging an understanding between
individuals, groups, and nations. Today the material con-
ditions exist What is lacking are men who understand that



they themselves are the subjects or the functionaries of their
own oppression. Because all conditions for the development
of such understanding exist, it is absurd to expect that the
notion of the 'immaturity of the masses' is tenable. More-
over, the observer who views the social process even in the
most backward parts of Europe will be obliged to admit
that those who are led are at least as mature as the wretched,
inflated little Fiihrers whom they are asked to follow idol-
atrously. The realization that at this very moment every-
thing depends upon the right use of man's autonomy should
rally those who have not been silenced to defend culture
against threatened debasement at the hands of its conform-
ist fair-weather friends or annihilation at the hands of the
barbarians within the gates.

The process is irreversible. Metaphysical therapies that
propose to turn back the wheel of history are, as has been
said above in the discussion of neo-Thomism, vitiated by
the very pragmatism they profess to abhor.

The struggle is too late; and every means taken merely makes
the disease worse; for the disease has seized the very marrow of
spiritual life, viz., consciousness in its ultimate principle
[Begriff], or its pure inmost nature itself. There is therefore no
power left in conscious life to surmount the disease ... It is
then the memory alone that still preserves the dead form of the
spirit's previous state, as a vanished history, vanished men know
not how. And the new serpent of wisdom, raised on high be-
fore bending worshippers, has in this manner painlessly sloughed
merely a shrivelled skin. 1

Ontological revivals are among the means that aggravate

1 G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, transl. by J. B. Bafflie,
New York, 1931, pp. 564-5.


the disease. Conservative thinkers who have described the
negative aspects of enlightenment, mechanization, and
mass culture have often tried to mitigate the consequences
of civilization either by re-emphasizing old ideals or by
pointing out new aims that could be pursued without the
risk of revolution. The philosophy of the French counter-
revolution and that of German prefascism are examples of
the first-named attitude. Their critique of modern man is
romanticist and anti-intellectualist Other enemies of col-
lectivism advance more progressive ideas, e.g. the idea of
the confederation of Europe or that of political unity for
the whole of the civilized world, as advocated by Gabriel
Tarde 2 at the end of the nineteenth century and Ortega y
Gasset 3 in our own time. Although their analyses of the
objective mind of our era are most pertinent, their own
educational conservatism is certainly one of its elements.
Ortega y Gasset likens the masses to spoiled children *; the
comparison appeals to just those sections of the masses that
are most completely deprived of individuality. His reproach
that they are ungrateful to the past is one of the elements
of mass propaganda and mass ideology. The very fact that
his philosophy is slanted for popular availability, i.e., its
pedagogical character, nullifies it as philosophy. Theories
embodying critical insight into historical processes, when
used for panaceas, have often turned into repressive doc-
trines. As recent history teaches, this holds true for radical
as well as for conservative doctrines. Philosophy is neither

2 Cf. Les Lois de rimitation, Engl. transL, The Laws of Imitation,
New York, 1903, particularly pp. 184-8 and pp. 388-93.

8 Cf. La Rebelidn de las Masas, Engl. transl., The Revolt of the Masses,
New York, 1932, particularly pp. 196-200.

4 Ibid. pp. 63-4.


a tool nor a blueprint It can only foreshadow the path of
progress as it is marked out by logical and factual necessi-
ties; in doing so it can anticipate the reaction of horror and
resistance that will be evoked by the triumphal march of
modern man.

There is no definition of philosophy. Definition of it is
identical with the explicit account of what it has to say.
However, some remarks on both definitions and philosophy
may further elucidate the role that the latter could play.
They will also give opportunity to clarify further our use
of such abstract terms as nature and spirit, subject and

Definitions acquire their full meanings in the course of
a historical process. They cannot be used intelligently un-
less we humbly concede that their penumbrae are not easily
penetrated by linguistic short-cuts. If, through fear of pos-
sible misunderstandings, we agree to eliminate the histori-
cal elements and to offer supposedly atemporal sentences as
definitions, we deny ourselves the intellectual heritage be-
queathed to philosophy from the beginning of thought and
experience. The impossibility of such a complete disavowal
is evidenced in the procedure of the most antihistorical
'physicalisf philosophy of our times, logical empiricism.
Even its protagonists admit some undefinable terms of
everyday usage into their dictionary of strictly formalized
science, thus paying tribute to the historical nature of

Philosophy must become more sensitive to the muted
testimonies of language and plumb the layers of experience
preserved in it Each language carries a meaning embody-
ing the thought forms and belief patterns rooted in the


evolution of the people who speak it. It is the repository of
the variegated perspectives of prince and pauper, poet and
peasant. Its forms and content are enriched or impoverished
by the naive usage of every man. Yet it would be a mistake
to assume that we can discover the essential meaning of a
word by simply asking the people who use it. Public-
opinion polls are of little avail in this search. In the age of
formalized reason, even the masses abet the deterioration
of concepts and ideas. The man in the street, or, as he is
sometimes called today, the man in the fields and factories,
is learning to use words almost as schematically and unhis-
torically as the experts. The philosopher must avoid his
example. He cannot talk about man, animal, society,
world, mind, thought, as a natural scientist talks about a
chemical substance: the philosopher does not have the

There is no formula. Adequate description, unfolding
the meaning of any of these concepts, with all its shades
and its interconnections with other concepts, is still a main
task. Here, the word with its half-forgotten layers of mean-
ing and association is a guiding principle. These implica-
tions have to be re-experienced and preserved, as it were,
in more enlightened and universal ideas. Today, one is too
-easily induced to evade complexity by surrendering to the
illusion that the basic ideas will be clarified by the march
of physics and technology. Industrialism puts pressure
even upon the philosophers to conceive their work in
terms of the processes of producing standardized cutlery.
Some of them seem to feel that concepts and categories
should leave their workshops clean-cut and looking brand-


Hence definition renounces, of itself, the concept-terms prop-
erly so-called, which would be essentially principles of the
subject-matter, and contents itsdf with marfcs, that is, with
determinations in which essentiality for the object itself is
a matter of indifference, and which are designed merely to
be distinguishing tokens for an external reflection. A single
external detenninateness of this land is so entirely inadequate
to the concrete totality and the nature of its concept that its
exclusive selection is beyond justification, nor could any one
suppose that a concrete whole had its true expression and
character in it. 5

Each concept must be seen as a fragment of an inclusive
truth in which it finds its meaning. It is precisely the build-
ing of truth out of such fragments that is philosophy's
prime concern.

There is no royal road to definition. The view that phil-
osophical concepts must be pinned down, identified, and
used only when they exactly follow the dictates of the logic
of identity is a symptom of the quest for certainty, the all-
too-human impulse to trim intellectual needs down to
pocket size. It would make it impossible to convert one
concept into another without impairing its identity, as we
do when we speak of a man or a nation or a social class as
remaining identical, although its qualities and all the aspects
of its material existence are undergoing change. Thus study
of history may prove that the attributes of the idea of
freedom have been constantly in process of transformation.
The postulates of the political parties who fought for it

5 HegeFs Logic of World and Idea (Being a Translation of the 2 d and
3d Parts of the Subjective Logic) with Introduction on Idealism Limited
and Absolute, by Hemy S. Macran, Oxford, 1929, p. 153 (Sect. 3,
Chap. n).


may have been contradictory even in the same generation,
and still there is the identical idea that makes all the differ-
ence in the world between these parties or individuals on
the one hand and the enemies of freedom on the other. If
it is true that we must know what freedom is in order to
determine which parties in history have fought for it, it is
no less true that we must know the character of these parties
in order to determine what freedom is. The answer lies in
the concrete outlines of the epochs of history. The defini-
tion of freedom is the theory of history, and vice versa.

The pinning-down strategy characteristic of and justified
in natural science, and wherever practical use is the goal,
manipulates concepts as though they were intellectual
atoms. Concepts are pieced together to form statements
and propositions, and these in turn are combined to form
systems. Throughout, the atomic constituents of the sys-
tem remain unchanged. They are felt to attract and repel
one another everywhere in the mechanism, according to the
familiar principles of traditional logic, the laws of identity,
contradiction, tertium non datur, et cetera, that we use,
almost instinctively, in every act of manipulation. Philoso-
phy pursues a different method. True, it also employs these
hallowed principles, but in its procedure this schematism
is transcended, not by arbitrary neglect of it, but by acts of
cognition in which logical structure coincides with the
essential traits of the object. Logic, according to philoso-
phy, is the logic of the object as well as of the subject; it is
a comprehensive theory of the basic categories and relations
of society, nature, and history.

The formalistic method of definition proves particularly
inadequate when applied to the concept of nature. For to


define nature and its complement, spirit, is inevitably to
pose either their dualism or their unity, and to pose the one
or the other as an ultimate, a 'fact/ while in truth these two
fundamental philosophical categories are inextricably in-
terconnected. A concept such as that of 'fact' can itself be
understood only as a consequence of the alienation of
human consciousness from extrahuman and human nature,
which is in turn a consequence of civilization. This con-
sequence, it is true, is strictly real: the dualism of nature
and spirit can no more be denied in favor of their alleged
original unity than the real historical trends reflected in this
dualism can be reversed. To assert the unity of nature and
spirit is to attempt to break out of the present situation by
an impotent coup de force, instead of transcending it in-
tellectually in conformity with the potentialities and ten*
dencies inherent in it.

In actual fact, every philosophy that ends in assertion of
the unity of nature and spirit as an allegedly ultimate
datum, that is to say, every kind of philosophical monism,
serves to intrench the idea of man's domination of nature,
the ambivalent character of which we have tried to show.
The very tendency to postulate unity represents an attempt
to consolidate the daim of spirit to total domination, even
when this unity is in the name of the absolute opposite of
spirit, nature: for nothing is supposed to remain outside the
all-embracing concept Thus even the assertion of the
primacy of nature conceals within itself the assertion of tie
absolute sovereignty of spirit, because it is spirit that con-
ceives this primacy of nature and subordinates everything
to it In view of this fact, it is a matter of little moment
at which of the two extremes the tension between nature


and spirit is resolved whether unity is advocated in the
name of absolute spirit, as in idealism, or in the name of
absolute nature, as in naturalism.

Historically, these two contradictory types of thinking
served the same purposes. Idealism glorified the merely
existent by representing it as nevertheless spiritual in es-
sence; it veiled the basic conflicts in society behind the
harmony of its conceptual constructions, and in all its
forms furthered the lie that elevates the existing to the
rank of God, by attributing to it a 'meaning' that it has lost
in an antagonistic world. Naturalism as we have seen in
the example of Darwinism tends to a glorification of that
blind power over nature which is supposed to have its
model in the blind play of the natural forces themselves; it
is almost always accompanied by an element of contempt
for mankind softened, it is true, by skeptical gentleness,
the attitude of a physician shaking his head a contempt
that is at the bottom of so many forms of semi-enlightened
thinking. When man is assured that he is nature and noth-
ing but nature, he is at best pitied. Passive, like everything
that is only nature, he is supposed to be an object of 'treat-
ment/ finally a being dependent on more or less benevolent

Theories that fail to differentiate spirit from objective
nature, and define it quasi-scientifically as nature, forget
that spirit has also become non-nature, that, even if it were
nothing but a reflection of nature, it still, by virtue of its
having this character of reflection, transcends the hie et
nunc. Ruling out of this quality of spirit that it is simul-
taneously identical with and different from nature leads
directly to the view that man is essentially nothing but an


element and an object of blind natural processes. As an
element of nature, he is Eke the earth of which he is made;
as earth, he is of no consequence, by the standards of his
own civilization whose complicated, streamlined artifacts,
automatons, and skyscrapers are in a sense evaluated in the
circumstance that he is of no greater worth than the raw
material of his futile metropolises.

The real difficulty in the problem of the relation between
spirit and nature is that hypostatizing the polarity of these
two entities Is as impermissible as reducing one of them
to the other. This difficulty expresses the predicament of
all philosophical thinking. It is inevitably driven to abstrac-
tions such as 'nature' and 'spirit,* while every such abstrac-
tion implies a misrepresentation of concrete existence that
ultimately affects the abstraction itself. For this reason,
philosophical concepts become inadequate, empty, false,
when they are abstracted from the process through which
they have been obtained. The assumption of an ultimate
duality is inadmissible not only because the traditional and
highly questionable requirement of an ultimate principle is
logically incompatible with a dualistic construction, but be-
cause of the content of the concepts in question. The two
poles cannot be reduced to a monistic principle, yet their
duality too must be largely understood as a product

Since the time of Hegel many philosophical doctrines
have gravitated toward insight into the dialectical relation
of nature and spirit Only a few important examples of
speculation on this topic may be mentioned here. F. H.
Bradley's One Experience is supposed to indicate the har-
mony of the divergent conceptual elements. John Dewey's
idea of experience is deeply related to Bradley's theory.


Dewey, who in other passages, making the subject a part of
nature, subscribes to naturalism tout court, calls experience
'something which is neither exclusive and isolated subject
or object, matter or mind, nor yet one plus the other/ 6
Thus he shows that he belongs to the generation that
evolved the Lebensphilosophie. Bergson, whose whole
teaching seems to be an effort to overcome the antinomy,
has maintained the unity in such concepts as dur^e and
61an vital, and the separation in postulating a dualism of
science and metaphysics and correspondingly of nonlif e and
life. Georg Simmel 7 has developed the doctrine of the
capacity of life to transcend itself. However, the concept
of life that underlies all these philosophies denotes a realm
of nature. Even when spirit is defined as the highest stage
of life, as in Simmel's metaphysical theory, the philosophical
problem is still decided in favor of a refined naturalism
against which SimmeFs philosophy is at the same time a
constant protest.

Naturalism is not altogether in error. Spirit is inseparably
related to its object, nature. This is true not only with re-
gard to its origin, the purpose of self-preservation, which is
the principle of natural life, and not only logically, in the
sense that every spiritual act implies matter of some kind,
or 'nature'; but the more recklessly spirit is posed as an abso-
lute, the more is it in danger of retrogressing to pure myth
and of modeling itself on precisely the mere nature that it
claims to absorb in itself or even to create. Thus the most
extreme idealistic speculations led to philosophies of nature

Experience and Nature, Chicago, 1925, p. 28.

7 Cf. particularly Lebensanschauung and Der JConflilct tfer Modernen
Kultur, Munich and Leipzig, 1918.


and of mythology; the more that spirit, released from all
restraint, tries to claim as its own product not only the forms
of nature, as in Kantianism, but also its substance, the more
does spirit lose its own specific substance, and the more do
its categories become metaphors of the eternal repetition of
natural sequences. The epistemologically insoluble prob-
lems of spirit make themselves felt in all forms of idealism.
Although it is claimed for spirit that it is the justification or
even source of all existence and of nature, its content is
always referred to as something outside autonomous reason,
even if only in the quite abstract form of the datum this
unavoidable aporia of all theory of knowledge testifies to the
fact that the dualism of nature and spirit cannot be posed
in the sense of a definition, as the classic Cartesian theory
of the two substances would have it On the one hand, each
of the two poles has been torn away from the other by ab-
straction; on the other, their unity cannot be conceived and
ascertained as a given fact.

The fundamental issue discussed in this book, the rela-
tion between the subjective and objective concepts of rea-
son, must be treated in the light of the foregoing reflections
on spirit and nature, subject and object. What has been
referred to in Chapter I as subjective reason is that attitude
of consciousness that adjusts itself without reservation to
the alienation between subject and object, the social process
of reification, out of fear that it may otherwise fall into
irresponsibility, arbitrariness, and become a mere game of
ideas. The present-day systems of objective reason, on the
other hand, represent attempts to avoid the surrender of
existence to contingency and blind hazard. But the propo-
nents of objective reason are in danger of lagging behind


industrial and scientific developments, of asserting meaning
that proves to be an illusion, and of creating reactionary
ideologies. Just as subjective reason tends to vulgar ma-
terialism, so objective reason displays an inclination to
romanticism, and the greatest philosophical attempt to
construe objective reason, Hegel's, owes its incomparable
force to its critical insight regarding this danger. As vulgar
materialism, subjective reason can hardly avoid falling into
cynical nihilism; the traditional affirmative doctrines of
objective reason have an affinity with ideology and lies.
The two concepts of reason do not represent two separate
and independent ways of the mind, although their op-
position expresses a real antinomy.

The task of philosophy is not stubbornly to play the one
against the other, but to foster a mutual critique and thus,
if possible, to prepare in the intellectual realm the reconcilia-
tion of the two in reality. Kant's maxim, 'The critical path
alone is still open/ which referred to the conflict between
the objective reason of rationalistic dogmatism and the sub-
jective reasoning of English empiricism, applies even more
pertinently to the present situation. Since isolated sub-
jective reason in our time is triumphing everywhere, with
fatal results, the critique must necessarily be carried on
with an emphasis on objective reason rather than on the
remnants of subjectivistic philosophy, whose genuine tra-
ditions, in the light of advanced subjectivization, now in
themselves appear as objectivistic and romantic.

However, this emphasis on objective reason does not
mean what would be called, in the phraseology of the
warmed-over theologies of today, a philosophical decision.
For just like the absolute dualism of spirit and nature, that


of subjective and objective reason is merely an appearance,
although a necessary appearance. The two concepts are in-
terlaced, in the sense that the consequence of each not only
dissolves the other but also leads back to it The dement
of untruth lies not simply in the essence of each of the two
concepts, but in the hypostatization of either one as against
the other. Such hypostatization results from the basic con-
tradiction in the human condition. On the one hand, the
social need of controlling nature has always conditioned the
structure and forms of man's thinking and thus given pri-
macy to subjective reason. On the other hand, society could
not completely repress the idea of something transcending
the subjectivity of self-interest, to which the self could not
help aspiring. Even the divorcing and formal reconstruc-
tion of the two principles as separate rest on an element of
necessity and historical truth. By its self-critique, reason
must recognize the limitations of the two opposite concepts
of reason; it must analyze the development of the cleavage
between the two, perpetuated as it is by all the doctrines
that tend to triumph ideologically over the philosophical
antinomy in an antinomic world.

Both the separateness and the interrelatedness of the two
concepts must be understood. The idea of self-preservation,
the principle that is driving subjective reason to madness, is
the very idea that can save objective reason from the same
fate. Applied to concrete reality, this means that only a
definition of the objective goals of society that includes the
purpose of self-preservation of the subject, the respect for
individual life, deserves to be called objective. The con-
scious or unconscious motive that inspired the formulation
of the systems of objective reason was the realization of the


impotence of subjective reason with regard to its own goal
of self-preservation. These metaphysical systems express in
partly mythological form the insight that self-preservation
can be achieved only in a supra-individual order, that is to
say, through social solidarity.

If one were to speak of a disease affecting reason, this
disease should be understood not as having stricken reason
at some historical moment, but as being inseparable from
the nature of reason in civilization as we have known it so
far. The disease of reason is that reason was born from
man's urge to dominate nature, and the 'recovery' depends
on insight into the nature of the original disease, not on a
cure of the latest symptoms. The true critique of reason
will necessarily uncover the deepest layers of civilization and
explore its earliest history. From the time when reason be-
came the instrument for domination of human and extra-
human nature by man that is to say, from its very begin-
ningsit has been frustrated in its own intention of discov-
ering the truth. This is due to the very fact that it made
nature a mere object, and that it failed to discover the trace
of itself in such objectivization, in the concepts of matter
and things not less than in those of gods and spirit One
might say that the collective madness that ranges today,
from the concentration camps to the seemingly most harm-
less mass-culture reactions, was already present in germ in
primitive objectivization, in the first man's calculating con-
templation of the world as a prey. Paranoia, the madness
that builds logically constructed theories of persecution, is
not merely a parody of reason, but is somehow present in
any form of reason that consists in the mere pursuit of aims.

Thus the derangement of reason goes far beyond the ob-


vious malformations that characterize it at the present time.
Reason can realize its reasonableness only through reflect-
ing on the disease of the world as produced and reproduced
by man; in such self-critique, reason will at the same time
remain faithful to itself, by preserving and applying for no
ulterior motive the principle of truth that we owe to reason
alone. The subjugation of nature will revert to subjugation
of man, and vice versa, as long as man does not understand
his own reason and the basic process by which he has created
and is maintaining the antagonism that is about to destroy
him. Reason can be more than nature only through con-
cretely realizing its 'naturalness' which consists in its trend
to domination the very trend that paradoxically alienates
it from nature. Thus also, by being the instrument of recon-
ciliation, it will be more than an instrument. The changes
of direction, the advances and retrogressions of this effort,
reflect the development of the definition of philosophy.

The possibility of a self-critique of reason presupposes,
first, that the antagonism of reason and nature is in an acute
and catastrophic phase, and, second, that at this stage of
complete alienation the idea of truth is still accessible.

The shackling of man's thoughts and actions by the forms
of extremely developed industrialism, the decline of the
idea of the individual under the impact of the all-embrac-
ing machinery of mass culture, create the prerequisites of
the emancipation of reason. At all times, the good has shown
the traces of the oppression in which it originated. Thus the
idea of the dignity of man is born from the experience of
barbarian forms of domination. During the most ruthless
phases of feudalism, dignity was an attribute of might Em-
perors and kings wore halos. They demanded and received


veneration. Anyone who was negligent in obeisance was
punished, anyone who committed lese ma/este was put to
death. Today, freed from its bloody origin, the notion of
the dignity of the individual is one of the ideas defining a
humane organization of society.

The concepts of law, order, justice, and individuality have
had a similar evolution. Medieval man took refuge from
justice by appealing to mercy. Today we fight for justice, a
justice universalized and transvaluated, embracing equity
and mercy. From the Asiatic despots, the Pharaohs, the
Greek oligarchs, down to the merchant princes and con-
dottferi of the Renaissance and the fascist leaders of our
own era, the value of the individual has been extolled by
those who had an opportunity of developing their individu-
alities at the expense of others.

Again and again in history, ideas have cast off their
swaddling clothes and struck out against the social systems
that bore them. The cause, in large degree, is that spirit,
language, and all the realms of the mind necessarily stake
universal claims. Even ruling groups, intent above all upon
defending their particular interests, must stress universal
motifs in religion, morality, and science. Thus originates
the contradiction between the existent and ideology, a
contradiction that spurs all historical progress. While con-
formism presupposes the basic harmony of the two and
includes the minor discrepancies in the ideology itself,
philosophy makes men conscious of the contradiction be-
tween them. On the one hand it appraises society by the
light of the very ideas that it recognizes as its highest values;
on the other, it is aware that these ideas reflect the taints
of reality.


These values and ideas are inseparable from the words
that express them, and philosophy's approach to language is
indeed, as has been indicated above, one of its most crucial
aspects. The changing contents and stresses of words re-
cord the history of our civilization. Language reflects the
longings of the oppressed and the plight of nature; it re-
leases the mimetic impulse (cf. p. 114 &.). The transforma-
tion of this impulse into the universal medium of language
rather than into destructive action means that potentially
nihilistic energies work for reconciliation. This makes the
fundamental and intrinsic antagonism between philosophy
and fascism. Fascism treated language as a power instru-
ment, as a means of storing knowledge for use in production
and destruction in both war and peace. The repressed mi-
metic tendencies were cut off from adequate linguistic ex-
pression and employed as means for wiping out all opposi-
tion. Philosophy helps man to allay his fears by helping
language to fulfil its genuine mimetic function, its mission
of mirroring the natural tendencies. Philosophy is at one
with art in reflecting passion through language and thus
transferring it to the sphere of experience and memory. If
nature is given the opportunity to mirror itself in the realm
of spirit, it gains a certain tranquillity by contemplating its
own image. This process is at the heart of all culture, par-
ticularly of music and the plastic arts. Philosophy is the con-
scious effort to knit all our knowledge and insight into a
linguistic structure in which things are called by their right
names. However, it expects to find these names not in iso-
lated words and sentences the method intended in the
doctrines of oriental sects, and which can still be traced in
the biblical stories of the baptizing of things and men but


in the continuous theoretical effort of developing philo-
sophical truth.

This concept of truth-the adequation of name and thing
inherent in every genuine philosophy, enables thought to
withstand if not to overcome the demoralizing and mutilat-
ing effects of formalized reason. The classical systems of
objective reason, such as Platonism, seem to be untenable
because they are glorifications of an inexorable order of the
universe and therefore mythological. But it is to these
systems rather than to positivism that we owe gratitude for
preserving the idea that truth is the correspondence of
language to reality. Their proponents were wrong, how-
ever, in thinking that they could achieve this correspondence
in eternalistic systems, and in failing to see that the very
fact that they were living amidst social injustice prevented
the formulation of a true ontology. History has proved all
such attempts illusory.

Unlike science, ontology, the heart of traditional phi-
losophy, attempts to derive the essences, substances, and
forms of things from some universal ideas that reason im-
agines it finds in itself. But the structure of the universe
cannot be derived from any first principles that we discover
in our own minds. There are no grounds for believing that
the more abstract qualities of a thing should be considered
primary or essential. Perhaps more than any other phi-
losopher, Nietzsche has realized this fundamental weakness
of ontology.

The other idiosyncrasy of philosophers [he says] is no less
dangerous; it consists in confusing the last and the first things.
They place that which makes its appearance last . . . the
"highest concept," that is to say, the most general, the emptiest,


the last cloudy streak of evaporating reality, at the beginning as
the beginning. This again is only their manner of expressing
their veneration: the highest thing must not have grown out of
the lowest, it must not have grown at all ... Thus they at-
tain to their stupendous concept 'God/ The last, most attenu-
ated and emptiest thing is postulated as the first thing, as the
absolute cause, as 'ens realissimum.' Fancy humanity having to
take the brain diseases of morbid cobweb spinners seriously!
And it has paid dearly for having done so. 8

Why should the logically prior or the more general
quality be accorded ontological precedence? Concepts
ranked in the order of their generality mirror man's re-
pression of nature rather than nature's own structure.
When Plato or Aristotle arranged concepts according to
their logical priority, they did not so much derive them
from the secret affinities of things as unwittingly from
power relations. Plato's depiction of the 'great chain of
being' barely conceals its dependence on traditional notions
of the Olympian polity and thus on the social reality of
the city-state. The logically prior is no nearer the core of a
thing than the temporally prior; to equate priority either
with the essence of nature or of man means to debase hu-
mans to the crude state to which the power motive tends
to reduce them in reality, to the status of mere 'beings/
The major argument against ontology is that the principles
man discovers in himself by meditation, the emancipating
truths that he tries to find, cannot be those of society or of
the universe, because neither of these is made in the image
of man. Philosophical ontology is inevitably ideological be-

8 'The Twilight of the Idols/ in Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche,
ed. by Oscar Levy, New York, 1925, p. 19.


cause it tries to obscure the separation between man and
nature and to uphold a theoretical harmony that is given
the lie on every hand by the cries of the miserable and dis-

Distorted though the great ideals of civilizationjustice,
equality, freedom may be, they are nature's protestations
against her plight, the only formulated testimonies we
possess. Toward them philosophy should take a dual attitude.
(i) It should deny their claims to being regarded as ulti-
mate and infinite truth. Whenever a metaphysical system
presents these testimonies as absolute or eternal principles,
it exposes their historical relativity. Philosophy rejects the
veneration of the finite, not only of crude political or eco-
nomic idols, such as the nation, the leader, success, or
money, but also of ethical or esthetic values, such as per-
sonality, happiness, beauty, or even liberty, so far as they
pretend to be independent ultimates. (2) It should be ad-
mitted that the basic cultural ideas have truth values, and
philosophy should measure them against the social back-
ground from which they emanate. It opposes the breach
between ideas and reality. Philosophy confronts the ex-
istent, in its historical context, with the claim of its con-
ceptual principles, in order to criticize the relation between
the two and thus transcend them. Philosophy derives its
positive character precisely from the interplay of these two
negative procedures.

Negation plays a crucial role in philosophy. The nega-
tion is double-edged a negation of the absolute claims of
prevailing ideology and of the brash claims of reality. Phi-
losophy in which negation is an element is not to be equated
with skepticism. The latter uses negation in a formalistic


and abstract way. Philosophy takes existing values seriously
but insists that they become parts of a theoretical whole
that reveals their relativity. Inasmuch as subject and object,
word and thing, cannot be integrated under present condi-
tions, we are driven, by the principle of negation, to attempt
to salvage relative truths from the wreckage of false ulti-
mates. The skeptic and positivist schools of philosophy find
no meaning in general concepts that would be worth salvag-
ing. Oblivious to their own partiality, they fall into un-
resolvable contradictions. On the other hand, objective
idealism and rationalism insist, above all, upon the eternal
meaning of general concepts and norms, regardless of their
historical derivations. Each school is equally confident of
its own thesis and hostile to the method of negation in-
separably bound up with any philosophical theory that
does not arbitrarily stop thinking at some point in its

Some cautions against possible misconstruction are in
order. To say that the essence or the positive side of philo-
sophical thought consists in understanding the negativity
and relativity of the existing culture does not imply that
the possession of such knowledge constitutes, in itself, the
overcoming of this historical situation. To assume this
would be to confound true philosophy with the idealistic
interpretation of history, and to lose sight of the core of
dialectical theory, namely, the basic difference between the
ideal and the real, between theory and practice. The ideal-
istic identification of wisdom, however deep, with fulfil-
mentby which is meant the reconciliation of spirit and
nature enhances the ego only to rob it of its content by
isolating it from the external world. Philosophies that look


exclusively to an inner process for the eventual liberation
end as empty ideologies. As has been remarked earlier, Hel-
lenistic concentration on pure inwardness allowed society
to become a jungle of power interests destructive of all the
material conditions prerequisite for the security of the inner

Is activism, then, especially political activism, the sole
means of fulfilment, as just defined? I hesitate to say so.
This age needs no added stimulus to action. Philosophy
must not be turned into propaganda, even for the best pos-
sible purpose. The world has more than enough propa-
ganda. Language is assumed to suggest and intend nothing
beyond propaganda. Some readers of this book may think
that it represents propaganda against propaganda, and con-
ceive each word as a suggestion, slogan, or prescription.
Philosophy is not interested in issuing commands. The in-
tellectual situation is so confused that this statement itself
may in turn be interpreted as offering foolish advice against
obeying any command, even one that might save our lives;
indeed, it may even be construed as a command directed
against commands. If philosophy is to be put to work, its
first task should be to correct this situation. The concen-
trated energies necessary for reflection must not be pre-
maturely drained into the channels of activistic or non-
activistic programs.

Today even outstanding scholars confuse thinking with
planning. Shocked by social injustice and by hypocrisy in
its traditional religious garb, they propose to wed ideology to
reality, or, as they prefer to say, to bring reality closer to our
heart's desire, by applying the wisdom of engineering to re-
ligion. In the spirit of August Comte, they wish to establish


a new social catechism. 'American Culture/ writes Robert

if it is to be creative in the personality of those who live it,
needs to discover and to build prominently into its structure a
core of richly evocative common purposes which have meaning
in terms of the deep personality needs of the great mass of the
people. Needless to say, the theology, eschatology and other
familiar aspects of traditional Christianity need not have any
place in such an operating system. It is the responsibility of
a science that recognizes human values as a part of its data to
help to search out the content and modes of expression of such
shared loyalties. In withholding its hand science becomes a
partner to those people who maintain outworn religious forms
because there is nothing else in sight. 9

Lynd seems to look at religion in somewhat the manner in
which he looks, at social science itself which, in his view,
'will stand or fall on the basis of its serviceability to men as
they struggle to live/ 10 Religion becomes pragmatistic.

Despite the genuine progressive spirit of such thinkers,
they miss the core of the problem. The new social cate-
chisms are even more futile than the revivals of Christian
movements. Religion, in its traditional form or as a pro-
gressive social cult, is regarded, if not by the great masses, at
least by its authorized spokesmen, as an instrument. It can-
not regain status by propagating new cults of the present or
future community, of the state, or of the leader. The truth
it seeks to convey is compromised by its pragmatic end.
Once men come to speak of religious hope and despair in
terms of 'deep personality needs/ emotionally rich common

9 Knowledge for What, Princeton, 1939, p. 239.

10 Ibid. p. 177.


sentiments, or scientifically tested human values, religion is
meaningless for them. Even Hobbes's prescription that re-
ligious doctrines be swallowed like pills will be of little avail.
The language of the recommendation disavows what it
means to recommend.

Philosophical theory itself cannot bring it about that
either the barbarizing tendency or the humanistic outlook
should prevail in the future. However, by doing justice to
those images and ideas that at given times dominated
reality in the role of absolutes e.g. the idea of the individual
as it dominated the bourgeois era and that have been rele-
gated in the course of history, philosophy can function as
a corrective of history, so to speak. Thus ideological stages
of the past would not be equated simply with stupidity and
fraud the verdict brought against medieval thought by the
philosophy of the French Enlightenment. Sociological and
psychological explanation of earlier beliefs would be distinct
from philosophical condemnation and suppression of them.
Though divested of the power they had in their contempo-
rary setting, they would serve to cast light upon the current
course of humanity. In this function, philosophy would be
mankind's memory and conscience, and thereby help to
keep the course of humanity from resembling the meaning-
less round of the asylum inmate's recreation hour.

Today, progress toward Utopia is blocked primarily by
the complete disproportion between the weight of the over-
whelming machinery of social power and that of the atom-
ized masses. Everything else the widespread hypocrisy,
the belief in false theories, the discouragement of specula-
tive thought, the debilitation of will, or its premature di-
version into endless activities under the pressure of fear


is a symptom of this disproportion. If philosophy succeeds in
helping people to recognize these factors, it will have ren-
dered a great service to humanity. The method of negation,
the denunciation of everything that mutilates mankind and
impedes its free development, rests on confidence in man.
The so-called constructive philosophies may be shown
truly to lack this conviction and thus to be unable to face
the cultural debacle. In their view, action seems to repre-
sent the fulfilment of our eternal destiny. Now that science
has helped us to overcome the awe of the unknown in na-
ture, we are the slaves of social pressures of our own mak-
ing. When called upon to act independently, we cry for
patterns, systems, and authorities. If by enlightenment and
intellectual progress we mean the freeing of man from
superstitious belief in evil forces, in demons and fairies, in
blind fate in short, the emancipation from fear then de-
nunciation of what is currently called reason is the greatest
service reason can render.