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VII: Personality and Humanity

VII: Personality and Humanity
The history of mankind begins with collectivism. Primitive man and primitive society do not know individual personality. Man is an entirely generic being. The individual does what everyone does thinks what people as a whole think. Just as primitive man does not clearly distinguish himself from the animal so the individual is not distinct within the collectivity. The collective mind completely dominates primitive society. The oldest civilisations which we know those of Egypt and Babylon are thoroughly collectivist. Their cultural achievements remain anonymous with the one exception of the king. But his elevation from the anonymous remainder is not due to his personality but to his social-political function. It is exactly this fact—that the king as bearer of highest public authority bears divine attributes and is revered as a being descending from the gods—which shows the tremendous predominance of the collectivist and institutional over the personal.

In the discovery of individual personality Greece is the pioneer nation. Perhaps we might claim the myth of Prometheus as the earliest beginning of the emancipation of the individual. No doubt in this process the tragedy of Aeschylus Sophocles and Euripides plays an important part. But even before that there began not in Athens but in Asia Minor a detachment of the individual from collectivity and its institutions. This is the significance of philosophical reflection as it originated on the shores of Asia Minor and in Sicily and which significantly developed from the start as a rival to myth. Now for the first time there are some bold individuals who dare to think independently to criticise mythology and to emancipate themselves from tradition. In Athens the democratic republic is founded as an expression of the same mind; sophistic philosophy and individualising comedy with its acid criticism of society arise simultaneously. Single creative individualities come to the fore; works of culture are called after their creators; individual fame is no longer limited to military bravery that is to action in favour of collective security but passes over to thinkers poets artists. Fame is not only as we are apt to think nowadays a matter of personal vanity and ambition; the phenomenon of fame shows that the individual becomes conscious of his personal value. It is by this process that classical antiquity becomes a model which has never been surpassed for individualised cultural activity and individualised humanity. The human face presents itself in an innumerable plurality of markedly individual faces.

Moreover it is as if this emancipation from collectivity had no sooner begun than it ran to the opposite extreme. In sophistic philosophy individualism has already reached such a radical expression of extreme subjectivism that Athenian society is shaken to its moral and religious foundations. It is about the same time that Athenian democracy is in danger of falling prey to an anarchic mob-rule. The emancipation of the individual seems to end in a complete sceptical dissolution of all objective norms. But thanks to unspent moral and religious reserves to a prevailing sense of social necessity and—last but not least— thanks to the great achievement of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy this subjectivist sophism remained an episode or a crisis which was overcome. It is only after this that Greek humanism reasserts itself and the concept of humanity and the human is formed.1
In the full sense this is not yet true of Plato and Aristotle because for them the humane is identical with the Hellenic. Beyond the realm of the Greek language begins that of the barbarians which cannot be considered as truly human. And for those great thinkers the existence of the slave—that is the man without dignity or rights—is taken for granted. But this limitation of classical philosophy is soon overcome in Hellenistic particularly Stoic philosophy. The vision extends itself beyond the Greek into the human as such; the sense of humanity as a whole is formed for the first time; the word homo sum becomes the highest title of nobility. The recognition of the indestructible human dignity of every being having a human face becomes the highest ethical principle. The principle of humanity is discovered and is one must say preached—not only taught—with a high religious feeling particularly by the later Stoics on Roman soil. So it might appear that classical antiquity the Greek mind has done all that was to be done in the discovery of humanity. It has brought forth both individual personality and universal humanity.
All the same it was not this Greek humanism which became the main foundation of Western humanism. That was kept in store for another power of a totally different character—for Christianity. No doubt the Christian Church has absorbed within itself since the time of the earliest Fathers a good portion of the ancient classical heritage of civilisation and humanism but the fundamental conception of man's essence and of true humanity was a totally different one not only in its basis but also in its content and in its practical consequences.
I should like to formulate this fundamental difference between the Christian and the Greek conception of humanity in three points: in the idea of personality in that of community and in the relation between body and spirit. It will appear that those three points are in close necessary relation so that we might call them rather three aspects of one and the same thing.
  1. We have been trying to show how much the Greek mind has done for the discovery and appreciation of individual personality. But the Greek idea of man is threatened by a fatal either/or which can be seen by a comparative study of the older Platonic-Aristotelian and the later Stoic concepts of the human. In Plato and Aristotle a certain appreciation of individual personality becomes possible by envisaging the articulation of reason proportional to its different functions. The consequence of this individualising view is a scale or hierarchy of different groups like the Greeks and the barbarians the men and the women the free and the slaves. In Plato's state we are faced with a real caste-system based on this idea.2 Now the Stoics dropped this hierarchical conception and by that gave the principle of humanity its full universality. Every man is essentially equal to every other man because the same divine reason is indwelling in every one. But whilst this idea is the cause of the universality of humanity it also produces the impersonal abstract concept of man which strikes us in Stoic writings. It is not this man here in his individual being who is the object of my appreciation but it is the divine reason dwelling in him dwelling in all identically. It is therefore an abstract impersonal general principle to which our evaluation is directed and which makes man human.3

    The Christian concept of personality is entirely different. Here it is the call of God summoning me this individual man to communion with Him which makes me a person a responsible being. “I have called Thee by Thy name Thou art mine.” A divine I calls me Thou and attests to me that I this individual man being here and being so am seen and called by God from eternity. This dignity of human personality is not grounded in an abstract general element in all men namely reason but individual personality as such is the object of this appreciation because it is deemed worthy of being called by God. Only the personal God can fundamentally establish truly personal existence and responsibility responsibility being the inescapable necessity to answer God's creative call and to answer it so that this answer is also a decision. God's call in love shall be answered by man's response in love. By doing this—by loving God as he is loved by God—man is similar to God. The loving man having received God's love is God's image. The love of the personal God does not create an abstract impersonal humanity; it calls the individual to the most personal responsibility.
  2. With this first element the second is in the closest connection namely the relation to community. As in Greek philosophy reason is the principium humanitatis no relation to communion is based on it. Abstract reason does not tend to communion but to unity. In thinking I am related to general truth to ideas not to the Thou of my neighbour. Activity of reason has its meaning in itself the wise man is self-sufficient he has no desire to go out from himself to another. In Christian faith however it is the same thing that makes me an individual person which also leads me necessarily to my fellow-man: the love of God. God in His free grace gives man His love and calls him to receive it in order to give it back. Not reason but love is the principium humanitatis. In such a way this love given on the part of God determines both the relation to God and the relation to the fellow-man. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” and the command that follows is equal with it: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” More than that it is not the divine commandment but the divine gift of love which is the basis of true personality. God gives man His own love but He gives it in such a way that it cannot be received save in a free act of reception in responsive love which is faith. Greek idealism is a system of unity; Christianity however is revealed communion.

    This means the creation of a humanism of a very different character from that of Greek idealism. Not reason but love is the truly human. Reason spiritual activity is subordinate to love. It is an instrument of love. This is to say also that civilisation is not in itself the essentially human but is in its turn an instrument an expression not in itself a purpose. In the same way the rational principle of autarkia self-sufficiency characteristic of the wise philosopher is here impossible. Man cannot become truly human except by entering into community. He is called by the loving God into a loving relation to his fellow-man.
  3. This opposition in the basis of the idea of humanity— immanent divine reason in the one hand the transcendent divine call of love on the other—expresses itself in a third sense in a most characteristic and momentous manner. The Greek principle of reason brings with it a dualistic conception of man. Man is composed of two parts. By his reason that is his higher element he shares in the divine being; by his body that is his lower element man partakes of animal nature out of which comes evil. The one is the basis of his dignity; the other is the cause of his ignominy which can be mitigated only by the fact that this lower part may be called unessential or accidental. The Christian faith answering the call of love of the Creator produces quite a different view of man's structure. The whole man body and mind is God's creation. There is no more reason to despise the body than there is to consider human rationality as divine. The whole man body and mind is called into communion with God and into the service of God. Therefore there is no question here of the ascetic ideal inherent in idealism since Plato's Phaedo that the spiritual is to be delivered out of its entanglement with the body or that this spiritual freedom is to be maintained over against the world outside. Here the task is to co-operate in the totality of this corporal-spiritual personality with the work of God in the world to give oneself in love into this service which is at the same time a service for God and for man and which is the expression of the freedom and nobility of the children of God. We can guess even now what a different conception of manual work must result from these two different anthropologies. The ascetic spiritualism however as we find it in the mediaeval Church is not of Christian but of Hellenistic origin and is an exact parallel to the Neoplatonic element in mediaeval philosophy.
Now taking these elements in their unity—the principle of immanence on the one hand the divine relation of love and reciprocal service on the other—a further essential difference is revealed. In one of the most beautiful passages of Aristotle's Nicomachaean ethics the chapter on friendship4 the great thinker pronounces as a matter of course that one can love only those who are worthy of being loved. To love someone unworthy would be a sign of an ignoble mind a sign of a lack of the sense of value. Now Christian love is founded in God's love for sinful and unworthy man. This love then is received in the consciousness of being unworthy of it; that means that underlying the Christian humanitas we find humilitas. Humility is the most unambiguous sign of true love just as love for the unworthy is its most genuine expression. This is the trait which distinguishes Christian humanity most markedly from the idealistic Greek and which is also the great scandal for many humanists. It is at bottom the scandal and foolishness of the Cross which become apparent here.
During the first fifteen centuries of the Christian era these two forms of humanism—the Christian and the idealistic Greek— lived together in a kind of association or amalgam without any awareness of the specific character of either of them. Then in the middle of the second millenium that double-sided process of dissociation took place of which we were speaking in the last lecture and which is the essence of the two principal movements the Renaissance and the Reformation. In the course of the following centuries it became apparent that the temper of the modern age favoured the first of these two movements. Mankind was out to find an immanent and rational basis of civilisation and therefore gave preference to the Renaissance conception of humanism. This however meant a progressive detachment of European civilisation from its previously Christian basis. The phases of this movement have already been sketched. The starting point is a theism still closely connected with the Christian; it is therefore a humanism based on a religious-metaphysical foundation whilst the terminus of this movement is a naturalist positivism which is not capable of giving a basis to any kind of humanism whether Christian or Greek. The question consequently arises as to why the original programme of Renaissance humanism i.e. the restoration of the Greek idea of humanity was not carried out; or to put it better why the process of emancipation from Christianity was not successfully arrested in a revived classical humanism.
The answer to this question comes from what was said in the last lecture. Greek humanism had not been a creatio ex nihilo. It had been the rational transformation of ancient pagan religion and drew much of its power of conviction from this religious-metaphysical presupposition. Now this presupposition could not be reproduced pre-Christian religion having been completely destroyed by Christianity. The humanism of the Renaissance and even of the beginning of the Enlightenment could remain unconscious of this fact as long as it still drew its life from the metaphysical substance of the Christian tradition. But in so far as this connection was lost or consciously cut the idealistic humanism was hanging in the air. The systems of philosophical metaphysics could not be an equivalent substitute for the lost religious basis if only for the reason that they were accessible only to a small elite of philosophical thinkers. This metaphysical background was definitely and purposely pushed aside by the positivist movement and from that moment humanism had lost its basis. More and more it was replaced by a naturalistic inhumanism by a materialist collectivism by a pseudo-Darwinian principle of ruthless extinction of the weaker by the stronger or by a pseudo-romantic principle of the powerful individual dominating the mass of the herd-people.
I should like to illustrate this general movement more concretely by showing the effect of this process within those same three spheres in which we have just been defining the difference between Greek and Christian humanism. The first of these points was the Christian foundation of personality in divine election in the personal call of the personal God. Now for this transcendent basis of personality was first substituted the immanent principle of divine reason. In the beginning of rational humanism—for instance that of Erasmus or that of John Locke—this divine reason still had a close kinship with the Christian idea of God. These fathers of rational humanism were not even conscious of breaking away from Christian revelation but believed themselves to be within the Biblical tradition. But the rupture which had taken place unconsciously became increasingly apparent. The principle of reason was more and more divested of its transcendent content. The metaphysical interpretation as it was given in the systems of idealistic philosophy could not resist the stream of modern secularism.
We can observe this change from a half-transcendental to a flatly secularist interpretation of human nature in the development of the three most important pupils of Hegel namely Feuerbach Strauss and Marx. Whilst they all started as ardent followers of Hegel's absolute idealism they all ended in a flat naturalism of a more or less materialistic character. But all of them tried to retain some humanistic elements although without any theoretical justification. Feuerbach tries to safeguard some elements of the idea of personality in his conception of the individual5 whilst Marx sacrifices personality to the system— not to a system of ideas in the fashion of Hegel but to the realistic system of economy in which the individual plays a very subordinate rôle. Strauss in his turn comes out with a blunt materialism softened only with a light æsthetic colouring which was all that remained of idealistic humanism. It was this poor figure which provoked the wrath of another champion of the new type of anthropology Friedrich Nietzsche. His programme is the total “transvaluation of values” by declaring war on all “backworlders” as he calls the adherents of any kind of religion or metaphysics and the proclamation of the powerful individual rising above the average mass and using it as the material of his will to power. Behind these conceptions of Marx and Nietzsche we see already dawning upon mankind the monstrous figure of the totalitarian state either in its post-Marxian Communist or in its post-Nietzschean Fascist form—that totalitarian state in which human personality is practically denied and abolished.
It would however be erroneous to think that this degeneration of humanism had taken place only within the spiritual history of Germany. Contemporaneously with that materialistic development of Hegelianism there arises in France Auguste Comte's “philosophie positive” with its negation of all metaphysics and its proclamation of a Religion de l'humanité. In England there was a similar school of thought led by men like Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer with a similar tendency to interpret man from merely immanent presuppositions and still to try to keep some humanistic elements within a naturalistic context which was incapable of affording a basis for them. The idea of evolution forming the backbone in the French as well as in the English system of positivist philosophy was incapable of safeguarding anything like an idea of personality either in the Greek or in the Christian meaning of the word. A highly differentiated animal is no personality personality being—in distinction from a differentiated brain-animal—a certain relation to transcendent truth be it (as in the Greek conception) the relation to the divine Logos or (as in the Christian conception) the relation to the person of the Creator. All the readiness of individual positivists to retain the moral values of the Greek-Christian tradition was in vain. You cannot have apples after having chopped down all the apple-trees. That is why in the following decades the representatives of this positivist naturalistic philosophy had to accept the consequences. They threw out of their vocabulary the idea of human dignity and human rights and substituted for them more realistic terms which fitted into their naturalistic system.6 It is humanly speaking almost by chance that the domination of this philosophy in other countries did not produce there the same effect that it did in Germany and Russia namely the totalitarian state which is nothing but positivist philosophy put into practice.
The change from idealism to naturalistic positivism becomes particularly intelligible if we view it from the second stand-point the problem of community. Those early humanists of the Renaissance and Enlightenment who consciously or unconsciously tried to emancipate humanism from its Christian basis were certainly not conscious of the fact that they thereby created a sociological alternative of the gravest consequences. In the Christian faith these two things are simultaneously and equally granted: the independent standing of personality and the necessity of community. It is the same call of God which summons the individual to his freedom and independent dignity and which summons him into communion and mutual responsibility. The unity of personality and community is rooted in the Christian God-idea alone. Apart from this basis the two cannot co-exist. Apart from the Christian foundation this unity breaks up into an either/or of individualist liberalism and collectivist authoritarianism.
Idealistic humanism in itself has always been an aristocratic doctrine. It is the life-conception of a bourgeois few. The immanent divine reason being the basis of personality creates the autarky of individual personality the Stoic sage who has no need of anyone else. The humanist of the idealistic type is a spiritual aristocrat knowing that he has the divine spark in himself and is therefore essentially independent. What leads him to community is nothing essential but merely outward necessity and this community is in itself not real communion but a combination of a contractual character. There is no original organically necessary community but only that kind of community which comes about through certain purposes and is therefore regulated by some kind of contrat social. It is not the State only but also marriage and every kind of community which rests on some kind of contrat social. Why should one enter into a fundamental interdependence if every individual has the essential in himself? Within this context community can never be on the same level as independent personality but only something subordinate and casual. That is to say that idealistic humanism leads to an individualistic conception of society which in the end must have anarchical consequences. That is why modern society in so far as it has relinquished its Christian basis appears to be in a state of latent anarchy or dissolution.
With the middle of the 19th century there begins a fierce reaction against this individualism and this collectivist reaction in its turn is worked out logically from a naturalist philosophy. The alternative to idealistic individualism is not free communion but primitive tribal not to say animal collectivism. It is the depersonalised mass-man the man forming a mere particle of a social structure and the centralised automatic mechanical totalitarian state which inherits the decaying liberal democracy. Only where a strong Christian tradition had prevailed was it possible to avoid this fatal alternative of individualism and collectivism to preserve a federal non-centralised pluralistic organic structure of the State and therefore to avoid that sudden transition from a half anarchic individualism into a tyrannical totalitarianism. But the societies of the West which abhor the way taken by totalitarian Russia Italy and Germany do not yet seem to have grasped that if the process of de-Christianisation goes on within their society they too will inevitably go the same way.
The third point—namely the relation between spirit and nature—remains to be taken into consideration in order to see these things clearly. In Christian faith man is seen as a spiritual-corporeal unity; God is the creator not only of man's spirit but also of his body. Therefore the bodily life has its own dignity in the sight of God and man is called into the service of bodily needs as into a sacred service. The body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit”7 In the Christian Sacrament an indissoluble connection of material bread and spiritual eating is expressed. In the middle of the Lord's Prayer stands the petition for daily bread. All this works together to make impossible a one-sided spirituality. Man need not be ashamed of his body and his bodily needs.
For idealist humanism on the other hand this bodily constitution of man—this animal part as he calls it—is the partie honteuse of his existence his dignity resting entirely on his spirit which is his divine part. It is the animal impulse of the body from which moral evil originates. It is the sensible impressions and perceptions which keep the mind from forming truly spiritual conceptions. The whole humanistic system of values is based upon this contrast or opposition of animal nature and divine spirit. It is therefore the liberation of the spirit from the body which is the guiding idea of humanistic culture.8 It is obvious that such a humanism cannot have much interest in the economic conditions of man's life. That man is a being who must eat who has hunger is a topic which remains outside this dignified culture. There is no Holy Supper here nor is there a prayer for the daily bread to remind the spiritual humanist of the sacredness of the body.
So exalted a spirituality could never be the spiritual home of the average man. Much less could it be so when—through the Industrial Revolution—the economic element became the dominating feature of his life. In the middle of the 19th century this aristocratic spirituality had become impossible. The reaction against this spirituality was inevitable. And come it did primarily in the form of a doctrine which plated the economic element in the very centre of the whole of human life making it the very essence of human history as did the historical materialism of Karl Marx. The change could not be more dramatic. Marx the pupil of the philosopher who had proclaimed the spirit as the only reality became the creator of a theory in which ideas and spiritual values were but an Ueberbau a superstructure an appendix or reflex of economic processes. But Marx is not the only one to make such a sudden volte-face. There was also Friedrich Nietzsche a solitary thinker and poet who came from a most dignified tradition of humanism and scholarship and yet proclaimed with prophetic vehemence that doctrine of the transvaluation of all values which means the primacy of instinct above the spirit and the will to power as the new principle of ethics. Aristocrat and individualist through and through he could not prevent his teaching from becoming the programme of a mass movement comparable in size and vehemence only to the one which Karl Marx had produced. Was it to be wondered at that the masses getting hold of this programme took literally Nietzsche's prophecy of the emancipation of instinct from the fetters of metaphysics and religion and understood his doctrine of the will to power to mean what it said namely that it was a practical application of the Darwinian principle of the struggle for life in which the strong survive at the cost of the weak?
Marx and Nietzsche9 are the fathers of the totalitarian revolutions and of totalitarian states. It seems paradoxical that the extremest collectivism and the extremest individualism should flow together in one stream. But upon closer inspection this fact is not at all paradoxical. The common denominator of both systems is the complete depersonalisation of man. Whether you understand man primarily as the animal that has hunger or by the two categories of the herd-animals and the solitary beasts of prey terrorising the herds you come to the same result namely the elimination of man's personality human dignity and the rights of man placing them all on the level of nature-phenomena. Naturalistic philosophy whether of the Marxist rationalist or of the Nietzschean romantic type necessarily means depersonalisation. In Communist totalitarianism on the one hand and in National-Socialist totalitarianism on the other the seed of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche has germinated and in these two monstrosities which are one in essence the movement of emancipation from Christianity has reached its goal. This goal is in both cases the annihilation of the truly human the end of humanism.
We should not close this survey without one further observation. Why did that whole movement of emancipation arise? Is it entirely due to man's unwillingness to bow his head before the divine revelation because he wants to hold his head high as his own lord? Is the modern movement away from Christianity exclusively caused by the desire for an autonomous reason? Is not a cause also to be found within the presentation of this Christian revelation by empirical Christianity? In other words should not the Christian Church take on its own shoulders a part of the burden of responsibility for this tragic history? If we think of that third point about which we have just been speaking—the false separation of body and spirit of bread and divine will—we cannot ignore the fact that empirical Christianity has been untrue to its own truth. The Christians of almost all centuries have been guilty of a one-sided false spiritualism which neglected the daily bread for the spiritual bread and by a false monastic or puritan disparagement of the body and its impulses brought about the revolt of an ill-treated human nature. The same could be said with regard to the other two points. If the modern age is characterised by a false secularism or this-worldliness traditional Christianity certainly has to accept the verdict of a false other-worldliness which in its interest in the eternal life forgot the task of this earthly life. And finally whilst it is true that the unity of the truly personal and the truly communal is grounded in the Christian revelation taken in its original truth empirical Christianity has failed to a large extent to prove this unity practically. On the one hand it has produced an authoritarian pseudo-sacred collectivism a Church of power and spiritual slavery; on the other hand it has produced an orthodox misunderstanding of faith i.e. a kind of faith which was not united with love but was morally sterile and which therefore could not but repel those who had grasped something of the gospel of love. It is a provable fact that these short-comings of Christianity were among the main impulses of the humanistic emancipation-movement. Thus the de-Christianisation characteristic of the modern age is to a large extent the product of the infidelity of the Christians to their own faith.10
Christian faith itself understood in its purity is the only sure basis for and an inexhaustible fountain of a true humanism. But it is no exception to that rule: corruptio optimi pessima. The history of empirical Christianity is unhappily not only a testimony of truest and purest and sublimest humanity but also in many cases it affords the sad spectacle of incredible inhumanity. Therefore the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only a judgment upon the secularised godless but also upon the godlessness of the Church and of the pious who so often forgot that faith in the Crucified implies the willingness to sacrifice and that the ultimate criterion of faith is faithfulness in the service of the fellow-man.
But whilst all this is true with regard to empirical Christendom taken as a whole it does not touch the Christian Gospel as such. All these short-comings are due to a misunderstanding of God's revelation in Christ and to the failure of the Christian Church to be truly Christian. It does not disprove in the least that the Gospel of God's love is the only solid basis of a true humanism which safeguards the dignity of individual personality essential non-accidental community and the unity of mankind.