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- Thoughts out of Season (Part One) - 10/29 -


hammering ponderously, but: "We do not only find the revolution of pitiless wheels in our world-machine, but also the shedding of soothing oil" (p. 435). The universe, provided it submit to Strauss's encomiums, is not likely to overflow with gratitude towards this master of weird metaphors, who was unable to discover better similes in its praise. But what is the oil called which trickles down upon the hammers and stampers? And how would it console a workman who chanced to get one of his limbs caught in the mechanism to know that this oil was trickling over him? Passing over this simile as bad, let us turn our attention to another of Strauss's artifices, whereby he tries to ascertain how he feels disposed towards the universe; this question of Marguerite's, "He loves me--loves me not--loves me?" hanging on his lips the while. Now, although Strauss is not telling flower-petals or the buttons on his waistcoat, still what he does is not less harmless, despite the fact that it needs perhaps a little more courage. Strauss wishes to make certain whether his feeling for the "All" is either paralysed or withered, and he pricks himself; for he knows that one can prick a limb that is either paralysed or withered without causing any pain. As a matter of fact, he does not really prick himself, but selects another more violent method, which he describes thus: "We open Schopenhauer, who takes every occasion of slapping our idea in the face" (p. 167). Now, as an idea--even that of Strauss's concerning the universe--has no face, if there be any face in the question at all it must be that of the idealist, and the procedure may be subdivided into the following separate actions:--Strauss, in any case, throws Schopenhauer open, whereupon the latter slaps Strauss in the face. Strauss then reacts religiously; that is to say, he again begins to belabour Schopenhauer, to abuse him, to speak of absurdities, blasphemies, dissipations, and even to allege that Schopenhauer could not have been in his right senses. Result of the dispute: "We demand the same piety for our Cosmos that the devout of old demanded for his God"; or, briefly, "He loves me." Our favourite of the Graces makes his life a hard one, but he is as brave as a Mameluke, and fears neither the Devil nor Schopenhauer. How much "soothing oil" must he use if such incidents are of frequent occurrence!

On the other hand, we readily understand Strauss's gratitude to this tickling, pricking, and slapping Schopenhauer; hence we are not so very much surprised when we find him expressing himself in the following kind way about him: "We need only turn over the leaves of Arthur Schopenhauer's works (although we shall on many other accounts do well not only to glance over but to study them), etc." (p. 166). Now, to whom does this captain of Philistines address these words? To him who has clearly never even studied Schopenhauer, the latter might well have retorted, "This is an author who does not even deserve to be scanned, much less to be studied." Obviously, he gulped Schopenhauer down "the wrong way," and this hoarse coughing is merely his attempt to clear his throat. But, in order to fill the measure of his ingenuous encomiums, Strauss even arrogates to himself the right of commending old Kant: he speaks of the latter's General History of the Heavens of the Year 1755 as of "a work which has always appeared to me not less important than his later Critique of Pure Reason. If in the latter we admire the depth of insight, the breadth of observation strikes us in the former. If in the latter we can trace the old man's anxiety to secure even a limited possession of knowledge--so it be but on a firm basis--in the former we encounter the mature man, full of the daring of the discoverer and conqueror in the realm of thought." This judgment of Strauss's concerning Kant did not strike me as being more modest than the one concerning Schopenhauer. In the one case, we have the little captain, who is above all anxious to express even the most insignificant opinion with certainty, and in the other we have the famous prose-writer, who, with all the courage of ignorance, exudes his eulogistic secretions over Kant. It is almost incredible that Strauss availed himself of nothing in Kant's Critique of Pure Reason while compiling his Testament of modern ideas, and that he knew only how to appeal to the coarsest realistic taste must also be numbered among the more striking characteristics of this new gospel, the which professes to be but the result of the laborious and continuous study of history and science, and therefore tacitly repudiates all connection with philosophy. For the Philistine captain and his "We," Kantian philosophy does not exist. He does not dream of the fundamental antinomy of idealism and of the highly relative sense of all science and reason. And it is precisely reason that ought to tell him how little it is possible to know of things in themselves. It is true, however, that people of a certain age cannot possibly understand Kant, especially when, in their youth, they understood or fancied they understood that "gigantic mind," Hegel, as Strauss did; and had moreover concerned themselves with Schleiermacher, who, according to Strauss, "was gifted with perhaps too much acumen." It will sound odd to our author when I tell him that, even now, he stands absolutely dependent upon Hegel and Schleiermacher, and that his teaching of the Cosmos, his way of regarding things sub specie biennii, his salaams to the state of affairs now existing in Germany, and, above all, his shameless Philistine optimism, can only be explained by an appeal to certain impressions of youth, early habits, and disorders; for he who has once sickened on Hegel and Schleiermacher never completely recovers.

There is one passage in the confession-book where the incurable optimism referred to above bursts forth with the full joyousness of holiday spirits (pp. 166-67). "If the universe is a thing which had better not have existed," says Strauss, "then surely the speculation of the philosopher, as forming part of this universe, is a speculation which had better not have speculated. The pessimist philosopher fails to perceive that he, above all, declares his own thought, which declares the world to be bad, as bad also; but if the thought which declares the world to be bad is a bad thought, then it follows naturally that the world is good. As a rule, optimism may take things too easily. Schopenhauer's references to the colossal part which sorrow and evil play in the world are quite in their right place as a counterpoise; but every true philosophy is necessarily optimistic, as otherwise she hews down the branch on which she herself is sitting." If this refutation of Schopenhauer is not the same as that to which Strauss refers somewhere else as "the refutation loudly and jubilantly acclaimed in higher spheres," then I quite fail to understand the dramatic phraseology used by him elsewhere to strike an opponent. Here optimism has for once intentionally simplified her task. But the master-stroke lay in thus pretending that the refutation of Schopenhauer was not such a very difficult task after all, and in playfully wielding the burden in such a manner that the three Graces attendant on the dandling optimist might constantly be delighted by his methods. The whole purpose of the deed was to demonstrate this one truth, that it is quite unnecessary to take a pessimist seriously; the most vapid sophisms become justified, provided they show that, in regard to a philosophy as "unhealthy and unprofitable" as Schopenhauer's, not proofs but quips and sallies alone are suitable. While perusing such passages, the reader will grasp the full meaning of Schopenhauer's solemn utterance to the effect that, where optimism is not merely the idle prattle of those beneath whose flat brows words and only words are stored, it seemed to him not merely an absurd but a vicious attitude of mind, and one full of scornful irony towards the indescribable sufferings of humanity. When a philosopher like Strauss is able to frame it into a system, it becomes more than a vicious attitude of mind--it is then an imbecile gospel of comfort for the "I" or for the "We," and can only provoke indignation.

Who could read the following psychological avowal, for instance, without indignation, seeing that it is obviously but an offshoot from this vicious gospel of comfort?--"Beethoven remarked that he could never have composed a text like Figaro or Don Juan. Life had not been so profuse of its snubs to him that he could treat it so gaily, or deal so lightly with the foibles of men" (p. 430). In order, however, to adduce the most striking instance of this dissolute vulgarity of sentiment, let it suffice, here, to observe that Strauss knows no other means of accounting for the terribly serious negative instinct and the movement of ascetic sanctification which characterised the first century of the Christian era, than by supposing the existence of a previous period of surfeit in the matter of all kinds of sexual indulgence, which of itself brought about a state of revulsion and disgust.

"The Persians call it bidamag buden, The Germans say 'Katzenjammer.'"[9]*

[Footnote * : Remorse for the previous night's excesses.--Translator's note.]

Strauss quotes this himself, and is not ashamed. As for us, we turn aside for a moment, that we may overcome our loathing.

VII.

As a matter of fact, our Philistine captain is brave, even audacious, in words; particularly when he hopes by such bravery to delight his noble colleagues--the "We," as he calls them. So the asceticism and self-denial of the ancient anchorite and saint was merely a form of Katzenjammer? Jesus may be described as an enthusiast who nowadays would scarcely have escaped the madhouse, and the story of the Resurrection may be termed a "world-wide deception." For once we will allow these views to pass without raising any objection, seeing that they may help us to gauge the amount of courage which our "classical Philistine" Strauss is capable of. Let us first hear his confession: "It is certainly an unpleasant and a thankless task to tell the world those truths which it is least desirous of hearing. It prefers, in fact, to manage its affairs on a profuse scale, receiving and spending after the magnificent fashion of the great, as long as there is anything left; should any person, however, add up the various items of its liabilities, and anxiously call its attention to the sum-total, he is certain to be regarded as an importunate meddler. And yet this has always been the bent of my moral and intellectual nature." A moral and intellectual nature of this sort might possibly be regarded as courageous; but what still remains to be proved is, whether this courage is natural and inborn, or whether it is not rather acquired and artificial. Perhaps Strauss only accustomed himself by degrees to the rôle of an importunate meddler, until he gradually acquired the courage of his calling. Innate cowardice, which is the Philistine's birthright, would not be incompatible with this mode of development, and it is precisely this cowardice which is perceptible in the want of logic of those sentences of Strauss's which it needed courage to pronounce. They sound like thunder, but they do not clear the air. No aggressive action is performed: aggressive words alone are used, and these he selects from among the most insulting he can find. He moreover exhausts all his accumulated strength and energy in coarse and noisy expression, and when once his utterances have died away he is more of a coward even than he who has always held his tongue. The very shadow of his deeds--his morality--shows us that he is a word-hero, and that he avoids everything which might induce him to transfer his energies from mere verbosity to really serious things. With admirable frankness, he announces that he is no longer a Christian, but disclaims all idea of wishing to disturb the contentment of any one: he seems to recognise a contradiction in the notion of abolishing one society by instituting another--whereas there is nothing contradictory in it at all. With a certain rude self-satisfaction, he swathes himself in the hirsute garment of our Simian genealogists, and extols Darwin as one of mankind's greatest benefactors; but our perplexity is great when we find him constructing his ethics quite independently of the question, "What is our conception of the universe?" In this department he had an opportunity of exhibiting native pluck; for he ought to have turned his back on his "We," and have established a moral code for life out of bellum


Thoughts out of Season (Part One) - 10/29

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