The movement of thought from Kant to Hegel revolved in a fundamental sense around the idea of man's self-realization as a godlike being, or alternatively, as God. A radical departure from Western tradition was implicit in this tendency. the centuries-old ruling conception of an unbridgeable chasm of kind between the human and the divine gave way to the conception of a surmountable difference of degree. It is hardly surprising that out of such a revolution of religion there issued, among other things, a religion of revolution.
I. The Faust-theme
The image of man striving to realize himself as a godlike being found earlier literary expression in the figure of Goethe's Faust. The Faust of the first part of Goethe's poem is absorbed in "dreams of godlike knowledge." He aspires to "this soaring life, this bliss of godlike birth," and would "prove in man the stature of a god." Having become in his imagination a godlike being, the possessor of absolute knowing powers, he feels driven to prove himself in action in this capacity. In order to confirm that he is the all-knowing self, he must acquire an infinity of knowledge. The goal is reflected in his complaint to Mephistopheles:
I have not raised myself one poor degree, Nor stand I nearer to infinity." Faust feels revulsion towards his very learned but withal less than omniscient self; it is alien in its finitude. He must either actualize the exalted image of himself as absolute knower, or else confess his "kinship with the worm."
The Faust-theme is pride in the sense of self-glorification and the resulting search for self-aggrandizement to infinity. This is the meaning that will be attached to the term "pride" in the following pages. It does not refer to ordinary human self-esteem based on actual achievements or potentialities, but to self-deification. This special kind of pride, which may be called "neurotic," is expressed in a godlike perfection, in his presumption that this being represents his real self, and in his attempt to prove it in practice. The word "godlike" connotes absoluteness, the transcendence of human limitations. The exalted self of the imagination is unlimited in its attributes and powers. It is all-good, all-knowing, or all-powerful, etc., and so may be described as an "absolute self."
Pride may be viewed as a peculiar kind of religious phenomenon, for it involves a worship of the self as the supreme being. The godlike self displaces God. The religions of the Hebraic group (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have, on this account, condemned pride as the radically faulty tendency in human nature or root of sin. They posit the infinite transcendence or otherness of God as eternally complete and perfect being. Man, by contrast, is understood to be limited and imperfect by nature. Thus, the Bible's myth of the Fall of Man contains the idea that man errs in transgressing the limits of the creature and striving to be "like God." This condemnation of pride is a fundamental element in the Hebraic-Christian religious tradition. I take it that Kierkegaard expressed the true sense of this tradition when he wrote: "God and man are two qualities between which there is an infinite qualitative difference. Every doctrine which overlooks this difference is, humanly speaking crazy: understood in a godly sense, it is blasphemy."
In the movement of German thought from Kant to Hegel, the Faust-them entered into philosophy. That is, it was generalized. The absolute self was made into an abstract norm of human nature, and man in general became a neurotic personality. Hegel in particular might be described as a Faust in philosophical prose, for "absolute knowledge" is the goal of man in history as expounded in his Phenomenology of Mind. The source of his doctrine of the absolute self lay n the moral philosophy of Kant.
II. Kant's Neurosis
Kant undertakes to expound ethics as a requirement of practical reason. The ground of morality is not to be sought in the particular constitution of human nature," but rather in the formal nature of practical reason conceived in abstraction form any image of man as man. Nevertheless, behind the façade of ethical formalism, we find in Kant a conception of morality as the expression of compulsion in man to achieve absolute moral self-perfection.
This theme recurs constantly in his ethical writings. He suggests, for example, that if there were any principle of human nature which might serve as a respectable basis for moral theory, it would be the "ontological conception of perfection" or, alternatively, "absolute perfection." In point of fact, the logical exposition of the categorical imperative coexists in Kantianism with a doctrine of moral perfectionism. According to Kant, mroality has its theatre of manifestation in the relations between men. However, the real moral drama is conceived as going on behind the scenes of the theatre, in each man's relation with himself in the effort to be absolutely good. We shall be concerned here solely with this psychological side of Kant's moral philosophy.
He portrays man in a posture of anguished striving to actualize an image of himself as divinely virtuous. He writes that there would be no need for morality at all, no obligation or "moral compulsion," if man were in actual fact a "holy being." This is a manner of suggesting that morality is the compulsion to become such a holy being in actual fact. It is a compulsion to become godlike. For Kant holds that we derive our very conception of God from the idea of absolute moral perfection or holiness. Yet man, as a merely finite rational being, who is in part a fallible creature of the senses, cannot achieve a holiness in this life. Hence the moral situation of man assumes in Kant's philosophy the shape of a fundamental dilemma. Morality is man's compulsion to realize himself as a holy being. But his human nature stands in the way of success in this endeavour.
Kant's explanation is that man has a two-fold nature, half godly and half human. He is a divided being, a dual personality: homo noumenon and homo phenomenon. The former is the godlike self of man; the latter, his merely human self. The terminology of this distinction is taken from Kant's epistemological dichotomy of noumenon and phenomenon as reality and appearance. The noumenon is the Ding-an-sich or the thing as it is in itself. The phenomenon is the thing as it appears. Hence homo noumenon man-in-himself, and homo phenomenon is man-as-he-appears. Further, man is conscious of himself in both capacities. He is aware of himself, on the one hand, as "intelligence" and, on the other hand, as "an object affected by the senses." In the former or noumenal capacity, man is his "real self," wheras, says Kant, "as human he is only appearance of his self."
The noumenal "real self" is a being godlike of moral perfection. In one place Kant describes it as an image that man is forced to form of himself as an "idealized person." He claims that this is a requirement of practical reason. Leaving that argument aside for the moment, we may note simply that man, acccording to Kant, creates an idealized image of himself as absolutely virtuous, and identifies this "idealized person" as his "real self." It becomes, then, the perspective from which he views himself, and the measuring rod by which he judges all his actions and inclinations. He discovers, when he does so, that his phenomenal or empirical self, i.e. The person that he observably is in much of everday life, fails to conform to the godlike standards of virtue laid down by the noumenal self. He is conscious of himself as a dual self, as two different persons, the ideally perfect person on the one hand and the imperfect creature of the senses on the other. The latter appears as an alien being, a stranger, a "me" who is not the real "I."
There is a war going on inside Kantian man. The moral life is a drama of ceaseless conflict within the dualized personality of the human being who is conscious of himself as half godly and half human. His duty, as he sees it, is to actualize the godlike noumenal self. This means that he must bend the phenomenal self to his moral will to be absolutely good. He must mould the phenomenal self into the being of absolute perfection. He attempts to do this by addressing himself in the stern language of the categorical imperative: Thou shalt be perfect. Morality is the system of commands of this order by which the godlike self in man attempts to compel the merely human self to be perfect. But the human self, homo phenomenon, resists the command. And so there arises in man, says Kant, a "natural dialectic" in which the relentless compulsion to be perfect meets an "urge to argue against the severe laws of duty and to question their validity." Sometimes he describes this as a war between duty and inclination It is the inner conflict engendered by man's striving to actualize in conduct the absolute self. This situation of sharp and unending conflict inside moral man is reflected also in Kant's image of the phenomenon of conscience. He represents it as an internal "tribunal" before which the idealized person arraigns the phenomenal self for harsh accusation and judgment as transgressor of the dictates of moral perfection. The Kantian conception of the moral life is epitomized in this subjective courtroom scene. The implication is that man, having become in his imagination of being a complete perfection, turns against the imperfect empirical actuality of himself in a fury of self-accusation for violating the norm of holiness, for failure to be perfect.
Kant accepts the fact that there is no possibility of winning the war of the self this side of the grave. The phenomenal self regularly tends to violate the dictates of perfection, and so is always having to be arraigned before the internal tribunal. There is no prospect of completely eliminating the discrepancy between the noumenal and phenomenal selves. The only final victory conceivable is a posthumous victory in the event of personal immortality. Meanwhile, the only possible solution lies in the exertion of the moral will relentlessly toward a progress of self-perfection. If man cannot mould his phenomenal self into complete conformity with the idealized person, he can at any rate achieve a closer and closer approximation: "For a rational but finite being, the only thing possible is an endless progress form the lower to the higher degree of moral perfection." Kant's solution of the dilemma of the dual self is, then, the idea of an endless progress toward a solution never to be reached. It is the idea of process of infinite self-perfecting.
This doctrine yields the notion that freedom is inner bondage or successful self-coercion. Kant argues that man is unfree when subjected to coercion from without, or when he follows his spontaneous inclinations. He is free, on the other hand, when he acts under compulsion of the moral will to be perfect. Freedom means "autonomy of the will," a condition in which man is subject to no outside commands but issues the moral law to himself. This is what Kant calls self-determination to action, which is his formula for freedom. The essential point is that self-determination means for Kant determination by the noumenal self. And this, as we have seen, is compulsive; it s a question of self-coercion to be perfect. Kant therefore not only admits, but continually insists upon, the identify of freedom and internal compulsion. He writes, for example: "The less a man can by physically forced, and the more he can be morally forced (by the mere idea of duty), so much the freer he is." He speaks too of "free self-constraint."
According to this views, a man is never so free as when he acts under the greatest sense of inner bondage, self-constraint, compulsion. It is only when he feels morally driven to do something, when he experiences it as compulsory and himself as a slave to the self-imposed command to do it, that he is free at all. The soul of moral man becomes, therefore, a kind of dictatorship of the moral "ought." Kant himself calls it an "autocracy." Man is free, he contends, in so far as he identifies himself with the internal autocratic authority (i.e. the noumenal self ) and compels himself to obey all its perfectionist dictates. He is free in so far as he submits willingly to the internal autocratic order, unfree in so far as he acts in accordance with mere impulses or desires. There is an interesting analogy between this position and that of the political dictator who claims that his authoritarianism is the "highest form of freedom" and that there is nor real freedom in a democracy, where everyone does as he pleases.
A critique of Kant's position might well start at this point. Something is radically wrong with a doctrine which tells us that the more compulsive a person's conduct is, the freer he is, that life in a subjective autocracy of the moral "ought" is the true life of freedom. Such a doctrine does violence to our understanding of freedom by divorcing it from the experience of freedom. This is no less foreign to a subjective feeling of compulsiveness or involuntariness than it is to a sense of acting under compulsion of an external force or authority. Absence of compulsiveness is the basic mark of the experience of freedom. It is the experience of spontaneity in activity, of voluntariness, of not being coerced by anyone, including one's self.
Kant's perversion of the idea of freedom is a logical consequence of his identification of homo noumenon as the real self of man. We may agree with him that self-determination to action is the correct general formula for freedom, but there is a hidden corollary: the determining self must be a possible self. It must represent, in other words, a set of authentic potentialities of the individual, and thus be a self whose realization lies within the realm of genuine possibility. Only if this essential condition is met can man know the experience of freedom as spontaneous self-expression in activity. The experience of voluntariness in action is given only to the person who is giving expression to himself.
When, on the other hand, the self with which a man identifies himself is a godlike being of perfection, the experience of freedom evaporates and his actions are performed under an inner compulsion. For such a self is not a possible self. As Kant himself admits, it is not a self that any mere human being could ever really be or become. A man cannot become an impossible superhuman absolute self, but he cannot become an impossible superhuman absolute self, but he can force himself to try and coerce himself endlessly in the attempt. This is what Kant pictures himself doing, and the logical but fallacious conclusion is that freedom means successful self-coercion. Kantian man cannot spontaneously (freely) determine himself to action in the capacity of homo noumenon; he can only strive to compel himself to action in this capacity. All his actions become compulsive.
The subjective system of bondage which may arise in man as a consequence is sharply etched in Kant's picture of the autocracy of the moral will to perfection. Although it is not his conscious intention to do so, he shows that self-glorification leads to the formation in man of a pride system that becomes autonomous and exerts, through its coercive imperatives, a tyrannical power over the individual. An internal "autocracy" emerges. The individual becomes a subject of the godlike noumenal self in him which imperiously orders: Thou shalt comply with my standards of absolute perfection or else suffer torments of self-accusation for violating them. All his energies are canalized into the ceaseless effort to comply with the dictates of the internal autocracy. This is a system of slavery far more complete and sever than any external political autocracy. The human being becomes the slave of the force of pride that has arisen and grown autonomous within him. Kant's representation of this subjective system of bondage is drawn with great psychological accuracy. His error is a philosophical one. It expresses itself in the fact that he calls this bondage "freedom."
The error in his conception of freedom is only a manifestation of the deeper error in his conception of man. He maintains that practical reason compels man to form a picture of himself as a being of godlike perfection and to regard this "idealized person" as his "real self." It seems, on the contrary, that reason cautions against this, and that pride is the force that leads man to reach out for the infinite and absolute, to confuse humanity in his own person with divinity. This hubris is the pathology of human selfhood. Man falsifies his identity as finite man when he arrogates to himself absolute attributes and powers. The absolute self that he becomes in his imagination is necessarily a pseudo-self, i.e. a self impossible of realization. In the attempt to realize the unrealizable, he necessarily becomes divided against himself. His soul become the arena of war between homo noumenon and homo phenomenon. Pride dualizes man, and initiates a destructive conflict within him. Kant's image of self-divided man is a vivid if unwitting illustration of this fact.
Kant's philosophy transformed what had always been regarded as the radical fault in man, the pathology of selfhood, into a universal norm. It identified the neurotic personality as the normal man, and pride as the requirement of "reason." The consequences of this momentous step were reflected in the further development of German philosophy in the systems of Kant's immediate successors, Fichte and Hegel in particular. Here we encounter an exuberant affirmation of pride. The apotheosis of the human self that Kant had adumbrated was taken as the revelation of a great truth. The noumenal self was accepted as the authentic essence of man, and the urge to demonstrate its actualization became a driving force of philosophical thought. The field of its actualization was extended from the life-history of the self-deifying individual to the life-history of the human race. Man's self--realization as a godlike being became the theme of a philosophy of history. Hegelianism was the high point of this development.
III. Hegel's Jesus
In a letter to Schelling in 1795, the twenty-five-year old theology student Hegel declared that a great new creative movement was to grow out of the Kantian philosophy, and that the central idea in the movement would be the doctrine of the absolute and infinite self. In a series of unpublished writings of these early years, Hegel groped toward the formula that would serve as the lever of this creative transformation of Kantianism. He found it at a time of acute spiritual crisis in his life, the year 1800, and then set about the elaboration of his vast system. The traditional distinction between theoretical and practical philosophy faded away in this system, which can best be described as a philosophical religion of self in the form of a theory of history. The religion is founded on an identification of the self with God.
In the first of the somewhat misnamed Early Theological Writings, Hegel makes a savage assault upon historical Christianity as a corruption of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus, in turn, is pictured as an exponent of Kantian self-perfection. More Kantian than Kant, Hegel has interpreted Kant's moral philosophy in religious terms. In the doctrine of homo noumenon he has found a "virtue religion" of man's self-actualization as a divinely perfect being. The essence of this religion is that it locates God within man. Regarding Jesus as the teacher of such a religion, Hegel argues that his true message was lost when Christianity arose as a "positive religion" founded on institutionalized authority and a dogmatic theology.
Hegel's objection to the Christian theology is that it severed human nature from the divine, allowing no mediation between the two save in "one isolated individual" and reducing man's consciousness of the divine to the "dull and killing belief in a superior Being altogether alien to man." God, he says was placed in another world, to which man contributed nothing by his activity, but into which, at best, he could be or conjure his way. Man, in his misery, "objectivized" his own absolute self as an external deity:
The despotism of the Roman princes had hounded the spirit of man from the face of the earth; deprived of freedom, he was forced to let that which was eternal in him, his absolute, flee into the deity; and the spread of misery forced him to seek and expect blessedness in heaven. The objectification of the deity went hand in hand with the corruption and slavery of man, and it is actually only a revelation and a manifestation of this spirit of the times.
Jesus, according to Hegel, was one of those exceptional Jewish personalities" who could not deny their feeling of selfhood or stoop to become lifeless machines or men of a maniacally servile disposition." However, his new teaching was transformed by "Jewish intellects" into "something which they could slavishly serve . . . . Out of what Jesus said, out of what he suffered in his person, they soon fashioned rules and moral commands, and free emulation of their teacher soon passed over into slavish service of their Lord."
So ends Hegel's essay on "The Positivity of the Christian Religion," written in 1795. In "The Spirit of Christianity," probably written in 1799, he adumbrates his own new religion. Here, for the first time, he contrasts Jesus with Kant. He protests against what he calls the "self-coercion of Kantian virtue." Kant had remarked that there was no real difference in principle between the Shaman and the European prelate, between the Voguls and the Puritans, since all alike were obeying positive authorities, external commands, and not commands issued by man to himself. To this Hegel replies that "the former have their lord outside themselves, while the latter carries his lord in himself, yet at the same time is his own slave." The "human being's division against himself" remains in force. Hegel is saying, in effect, that Kant has an erroneous conception of freedom as internal bondage, and that he offers now way out of the predicament of dual selfhood. Jesus, on the other hand, was "a spirit raised above morality." Hegel sees in him a solution to the dilemma posed by Kant's image of man divided against himself and self-enslaved.
The question, he goes on, is whether man should put the divine wholly outside himself. The intellect does so, positing two natures of different kinds, a human nature and a divine one, each with personality and substantiality. It sees an absolute difference of essences. Hegel comments scornfully that the Jews took this "intellectualistic point of view" when they refused to recognize the divinity of the man Jesus, to accept the fact that "though born a man he made himself God." He continues:
How were they to recognize divinity in man, poor things that they were, possessing only a consciousness of their misery, of the depth of their servitude, of their opposition to the divine, of an impassable gulf between the being of God and the being of men? Spirit alone recognizes spirit. . . . The lion has no room in a nest, the infinite spirit none in the prison of a Jewish soul, the whole life none in a withering leaf. The hill and the eye which sees it are object and subject, but between man and God, between spirit and spirit, there is no such cleft of objectivity and subjectivity; one is to the other an other only in that one recognizes the other; both are one.
Hegel sees in the figure of Jesus a paradigm of the solution for the Kantian dilemma. To him, this figure is not God become man, but man become God. This is the key idea on which the entire edifice of Hegelianism was to be constructed: there is no absolute difference between the human nature and the divine. They are not two separate things with an impassable gulf between them. The absolute self in man, the homo noumenon, is not merely godlike, as Kant would have it; it is God. Consequently, in so far as man strives to become "like God," he is simply recognizing his own true nature. Such recognition is preceded by "faith," which is a middle state between non-recognition and recognition of the self as divine; it is a "trust in one's self". Beyond it lies full scale recognition, "when divinity has pervaded all the threads of one's consciousness, directed all one's relations with the world, and now breathes throughout one's being.
In 1800, shortly after making this "breakthrough," Hegel wrote another essay of which we have only a short fragment ("Fragment of a System"). Here he no longer opposes the virtue religion with human self-worship to traditional theology. The reason is that by this time he has brought the concepts of man and God into the dialetical fusion just explained. Having supplanted the objectionable separation of man and deity with the idea of a dynamic unity of the two, he now proclaims as his own the point of view of "religion," for which he offers the following formula: "This self-elevation of man from finite to infinite life, is religion." In other words, religion is the action by which man elevates himself to the plane of divine life, realizes himself as God. We find a marvellously vivid metaphorical representation of this thought in a separate contemporaneous fragment of Hegel's:
If a spectator visits a temple and without any feeling of piety, regards it purely as a building, it may fill him with a sense of sublimity; but then its walls are too narrow for him. He tries to give himself space by stretching his arms and raising his head to infinity. The confines of the building which had roused the sense of sublimity thus lose their importance for him and he demands something more, namely, infinity.
The essence of the Hegelian idea is revealed in this metaphor. The image of the man who finds the temple too small is a symbolic expression of Hegel's own rebellion against a religion that sets the Supreme Being above and beyond man. Hegel is the spectator who tries to give himself "space" by raising his head to infinity. He feels driven to recognize God in his own person. A religion that makes God an other is intolerably confining to him. It conflicts with his urge to soar into the unlimited, to reach out in his own person for the absolute and the infinite, to make himself God. He finds that the only religion which can satisfy the grandiose urge and claim is a religion of the self as God, a religion which holds, in the words of Hegel was to employ in his Phenomenology that "The Self is Absolute Being." This is the religion that he soon began to call "philosophy."
It hardly needs to be emphasized that an intensely personal drama was reflected in all this. Hegel had set out in search of a lever for the creative transformation of Kantianism. He wanted to overcome philosophically the predicament of dual selfhood in which Kant had left man. But it was by no means a purely intellectual impulse that drove him to the effort; powerful emotional forces were involved. Hegel himself was the predicament of dual selfhood. He was engaged in a war of the self similar to the one represented in the Kantian philoosphy, save that in Hegel the urge to be godlike expressed itself in a quest not for moral holiness but for omniscience, absolute knowledge. Consequently, the search for a solution for the Kantian philosophical dilemma was simultaneously a search for a solution for the Hegelian personal dilemma. Commenting on the "Fragment of a System," Richard Kroner observes that here "a triumphant victory was won over the powers about to destroy the unity of Hegel as a person," and he adds: "The struggle of his life was directed toward an inner peace that would satisfy reason and soul by a gigantic metaphysical conception."
The image of the man who lifts his head through the temple to infinity reveals both the meaning of the gigantic metaphysical conception that Hegel created and the nature of the terms on which he found peace with himself: he had conceived himself as the particular man in whom God--the absolute self--finally achieves actualization. God had come to himself completely in the philosophical person of Hegel. When he undertook to elaborate the doctrine of his philosophical religion of self, Hegel found different ways of formulating this crucial point. In 1801-2, he wrote a preliminary sketch of the future system, at the close of which "The theoretical Ego finds itself as the Supreme Being." A few years later he presented the system again in the Phenomenology, which closes with "spirit knowing itself as spirit" in the form of philosophical science or "absolute knowledge." As we have seen, "spirit knowing itself as spirit" is a formula that Hegel earlier evolved for man's self-recognition as the divine being.
He began with a scornful rejection of Christianity as a religion for slaves, and dismissed its theology as erroneous through and through. Now, however, he speaks in the accents of a theologian. He adopts an attitude of benevolent condescension toward traditional or "revealed" religion. He assimilates the conventional religious consciousness into this scheme of history as an anticipation in figurative form of the ultimate religious moment that is reached when the philosophical mind attains absolute knowledge in Hegelianism. Many students of Hegel have assumed, therefore, that Hegelianism, as Kroner puts it, is "Christianity spelt by dialectic." They have treated Hegel as an unusual kind of Christian religious philosopher.
But if we assume that the condemnation of pride is basic to the Christian position, then Hegelianism must be pronounced radically anti-Christian. It is a religion of self-worship whose fundamental theme is given in Hegel's image of the man who aspires to be God himself, who demands "something more, namely, infinity." The whole system is spun out of the formula concerning man's self-elevation from finite to infinite life. The finite mind is seen as aggrandizing itself to infinity, becoming universal mind. Hegelianism is, therefore, a colossal embodiment and rationalization of pride. Hegel frankly recognizes this fact. For example, when he comments in his Logic on the myth of the Fall of Man, he says that man, having originally lost his harmony through the overweening desire to become like God in knowledge, must achieve a "second harmony" through the philosophical quest for absolute knowledge. By pride he fell; by pride he shall rise again: "The hand that inflicts the wound is also the hand that heals it." Consequently, the Fall of Man becomes an incident, as it were, of the Fall of God, and man's subsequent striving to realize himself as God is simply God's way of coming back to himself out of what Hegel calls his "alienation." Hegelianism carried to the principle of pride to the final point of consummation in thought. It is pride become theological. It is the theology of a religion in which the self is apprehended as God.