jeudi, décembre 28, 2017

Dooyeweerd: Humanism’s historicist swing from classical fixed values to a radical relativism

Plaque apposée au n° 36 de la rue Bonaparte, Paris 6e,
où habita le philosophe Auguste Comte (1798-1857) de 1818 à 1822.
(Crédits: Wiki)
Herman Dooyeweerd: Humanism’s historicist swing from classical fixed values to a radical relativism
It is highly important not to misunderstand Dooyeweerd’s use of this ambiguous word, currently much-maligned in popular parlance. Dooyeweerd is not at all referring to what is commonly disparaged as “organized religion”. Very far from it. Rather, he is alluding to the concentration point or anchorage of every individual’s deepest selfhoodwhether that individual be professedly pious, agnostic, humanist, or atheist. Dooyeweerd is denoting that which is an ontically core feature of the human being per se. He is talking about what for humans is a universal structural default, namely the restless search of the selfhood for an ultimate point of integration. In this light it might therefore be productive when reading Dooyeweerd to try mentally replacing the word "religious" with "ultimate". (FMF)
Dooyeweerd writes -
“To the question, what is understood here by religion? I reply: the innate impulse of human selfhood to direct itself toward the true or toward a pretended absolute Origin of all temporal diversity of meaning, which it finds focused concentrically in itself. 
The following is a short extract from Herman Dooyeweerd's essay 'Presuppositions of our Thought about Law and Society in the Crisis of Modern Historicism' in book ‘Time, Law, and History: Selected Essays’ (Paideia Press 2017) -

Modern uprooted historicism, which is no longer capable of rising above the historical time-aspect and which has lost its faith in an eternal destiny of humankind, is but a degenerate descendant of the “historical mode of thought” as it was born amid the still vibrant religious ground-motive of humanism during the late 18th and early 19th century as a polar reaction to the classical science ideal of the “Enlightenment” with its natural-scientific mode of thought.

[…] When at the beginning of the 19th century sociology emerged as an independent discipline, its founders, Saint-Simon and Comte, explicitly intended to reconcile the natural-scientific mode of thought of the Enlightenment – the putative crowning discipline of the encyclopedic system of human knowledge – with the new historical mode of thought of Romanticism and freedom idealism. In this way sociology, from its very beginning, took over the historicist view of reality, which nonetheless, in line with the classical science ideal, had to be united with the natural-scientific method of thought.

Although Comte still acknowledged that the solidarity of the social organism finally rested upon ideas of community, these ideas in principle lost their supra-temporal significance in his positive system. The historicist mode of thought had already started to separate itself from its idealistic presuppositions by viewing them merely as products of a historical process of development of humanity’s spiritual life.

Theological, Metaphysical, Positive
Comte’s famous law of three stages was one of the first attempts to historicize the guiding ideas of Western culture that owe their contents to religious ground-motives as central driving-forces. In this train of thought, the natural-law ideas of the previous era were viewed as an expression of the metaphysical stage, which denied the laws of social reality and accorded a role to speculative humanist jurists. This process had to come to an end in the chaos of the French Revolution. Similar to the earlier theological stage, the metaphysical era had passed for good. In future, positive ideas would govern the final phase of the history of humanity, submitting human society to the classical science ideal that had been worked out by Galileo and Newton for the natural sciences. 

To be sure, the start of this process of historicizing the deepest presuppositions of thought about law and society was not consistently followed through in Comte. His thought was still in the grip of Enlightenment belief in an ideal final goal of world history, in the course of which, under the guidance of positivist ideas, the ideal of true Humanity would be fulfilled. That these ideas, too, would eventually lose their grip on society did not occur to Comte’s rigid mind. The positivist stage meant for him the eschatological terminus. He still held to the belief in progress.

The same can be said of evolutionism, which after Comte commenced its triumphal march in Western culture and took command of its thought about law and society. It stripped classical humanism of its metaphysical pretentions about a “free rational human nature" by reducing human spiritual life to a secondary function of the organic development of a conglomeration of cells. Nonetheless, evolutionism remains firmly rooted in the classical humanist science ideal which in turn is driven by the humanist ground-motive of the autonomous freedom of humankind.

Even historical materialism, with its historico-economistic view of social reality and its eschatological, utopian hope, in the final analysis remained rooted in the same ground-motive. Marx’s future differed widely from Spencer’s, yet Spencer, the evolutionistic preacher of the survival of the fittest and the one who praised the free play of societal forces, and Marx, the radical prophet of the decline of the capitalist system, shared a belief in a free and autonomous mankind as the final point of historical development. Anyone who believes in an ideal final goal for history always has a transcendent-religious basis for his scientific and practical pursuits.

The classical science ideal, as we have seen, oriented as it was to the natural-scientific mode of thought, remained in polar opposition to the classical freedom motive in its personality ideal. Similarly, the historicist mode of thought, elevated to a new science ideal, turned out to be a polar counterpart to the new universalist and irrationalist conception of humanism’s freedom motive.

After the collapse of German idealism during the second half of the 19th century, faith in the absolute value of the human being was temporarily able to take shelter in “objective science”. Science had now also brought the historical reality of society within its purview and would, in its steady progress, lead mankind to ever higher levels of freedom and happiness.

Yet the historicist mode of thought harbors radical consequences in its theoretical view of reality which will assert themselves as soon as it starts to loosen its tie with its religious root and commences to view its humanist presuppositions themselves as historically determined products of the mind.

At this point in time, thought about law and society became entangled in a process of spiritual uprooting in which either a mood of decline or a blind pursuit of power dominated. This process announced itself long before World War I, although the prevailing optimistic faith in the future of mankind precluded an explicit acknowledgement of it. As early as the final phase of Nietzsche’s thought it broke through in frightening, almost pathological form. According to him, man is “the animal whose nature has not yet been fixed” and who has no existential possibility outside nature and history. Nature has stamped man as an animal, but as an historical being man has an advantage in comparison with the other members of the animal world which are still rigidly bound to their instincts and their environment. The development of the human being is not fixed because man disposes over his own future. But the historical aspect of reality provides us, stripped of all ideologies of humanity and moral autonomy, with the development of power tendencies only. Thus historical development offers only one real possibility for the future: an unbridled striving towards an increase of power, not hampered by a single traditional norm.

“transvaluation of all values”
The realm of the super-human Herrenmensch must [according to this line of thought] be erected upon the ruins of Christian and Humanist ideologies, upon the “transvaluation of all values”. In this demonic religion of power the control motive of the classic science ideal is utterly divorced from its spiritual root: namely, the Religion of Humanity as the absolute value of the human personality. In the pathological division of the humanist personality ideal which has lost its religious core, it took on an anti-humane character. Combined with the irrationalist doctrine of the folk-spirit, this uprooted power religion led to the ideal of the Herrenvolk (the Master Race), eventually presented in the myth of Blood and Soil or in the myth of Eternal Rome.

Historicism, uprooted and delivered over to the demonic power religion, has lost all faith in eternal ideas that give direction to historical development. In a neurotic attempt to yet find an inspiring motive for working for a future, a myth – if need be in the form of primitive notions extracted from the historical past – is used in mythological garb to serve as an incentive for the folk instincts.

This historicism no longer has any yardstick for differentiating between what is historically progressive and historically reactionary.

[…] The perilous consequences of historicism surfaced in a much more dangerous form in the Germanist wing of the Historical School. This wing promoted the idea of the folk-spirit, and against jurist law it posited the undifferentiated “social” conception of the Germanic folk-spirit as the ideal, in opposition to the reception of the “individualistic” Roman law.

[…] Taking the historicist conception of the Germanic folk-spirit to its extreme reactionary consequences was reserved for national socialism. Historicism, uprooted from the humanist ground-motive, revived the primitive phenomenon of trustis [Footnote: Name of a group of free warriors who formed a king’s bodyguard and were personally bound to him by an oath of unquestioned loyalty] in old Germanic law in order to create a power center aided by the myth of a Führer and his following. In this movement, destroying an individual’s personhood and annihilating conquered peoples’ national consciousness went hand in hand with worshiping primitive folk customs and practices and repudiating the classic foundations of civil private law. Even in cases where this uprooted historicism did not lead to such a pathological cult of power, it operated like a process of subversion, undermining the foundations of the modern differentiated legal order.

(Herman Dooyeweerd, ‘Time, Law, and History: Selected Essays’, Collected Works, Series B - Volume 14, Paideia Press 2017, pp 158,160-164)
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