Loren Goldner on the Cosmobiological Tradition vs the Enlightenment
* Article: The Renaissance and Rationality: The Status of the Enlightenment Today. by Loren Goldner.
From the reading notes from Michel Bauwens, 2006:
The Enlightenment was opposed by the romantics. It is important to realize that the Enlightenment defeated the cosmo-biological conception of the Renaissance, which was brimming with life and the human imagination, replacing it with mechanism in a dead and empty universe. Marx and socialism was an heir to that Renaissance cosmology! Marx' critique was different than that of Voltaire. For Marx, religion could only be overcome by 'realizing' it. This 'third stream', different from both the Church's Aristotelianism and the Enlightenment's mechanism, was fought by both, but should be recovered. The third stream in science was represented by the work of Kepler, Schelling, Oersted, Davy, Faraday, Goethe, W.R. Hamilton, Georg Cantor, Joseph Needham.
Both pro-Enlightenment Habermassians and anti-Enlightenment post-modernists ignore this tradition.
The Enlightenment was opposed by the romantics. It is important to realize that the Enlightenment defeated the cosmo-biological conception of the Renaissance, which was brimming with life and the human imagination, replacing it with mechanism in a dead and empty universe. Marx and socialism was an heir to that Renaissance cosmology!. Marx' critique was different than that of Voltaire. For Marx, religion could only be overcome by 'realizing' it. This 'third stream' differend from both the Church's Aristetolianism and the Enligthenment's mechanism, was fought by both, but should be recovered. The third stream in science was represented by the work of Kepler, Schelling, Oersted, Davy, Faraday, Goethe, W.R. Hamilton, Georg Cantor, Joseph Needham.
Both pro-Enligthenment Habermassians and anti-Enlightenment post-modernists ignore this tradition.
The third stream thus represented an interregnum before the definitive victory of English capitalism.
It had political implications in a radical social base:
- 1) the radical wing of the Reformation (such as Thomas Munzer and the Anabaptists) - 2) the radical wing of the English Revolution, such as the Levellers, Diggers, Gerard Winstanley
The left after the French Revolution, both social democracy and Stalinism, took over the Enlightenment values, as well as Third World Nationalism.
For Goldner: "There is nothing more to be done with the Enlightenment because there is no more bourgeois revolution to make."
The Foucauldian and Frankfurt school, live of this impoverished tradition!
"It is the rehabilitation, in suitable contemporary form, of the outlook of Paracelsus and Kepler, and not Voltaire and Newton, which the left needs today, in order to achieve a regeneration of nature, culture and society, necessarily a simultaneous process."
- "the planet is littered with the ruins of the bureaucratic appropriation of the Enlightenment project. A vigorous defense of the Enlightenment, as put forward by figures such as Habermas and his followers, might seem a breath of fresh air in the contemporary climate of post-modernism and "identity politics", whose hostility to the Enlightenment, drawing on Nietzsche and Heidegger (often without knowing it) the Habermassians rightly decry. To seriously defend the Enlightenment today means to draw on a historical culture which is totally unfashionable, suspiciously "white male", in the trendy academic radicalism of today. But such defenses also shows signs of not realizing how serious the problem is. One cannot today defend the Enlightenment (and we agree that a defense is necessary) with the ideas of the Enlightenment alone. However unpalatable it may be to do so in the contemporary climate, where the Enlightenment project is everywhere under attack by Nietzscheans, "cultural studies" ideologues, Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists, Foucauldian, Afro centrists and (most) ecologists, it is necessary to discuss the limits of the Enlightenment in order to defend it, and to go beyond it. One of the more serious errors today, of those on the left who wish to critically defend the Enlightenment, is their hurry to draw a line of direct continuity from the Enlightenment to Marx."
- "Enlightenment political thought moves, at its "commanding heights", from Hobbes and Locke to Rousseau and Kant. But it is exactly here that the problems arise. The Enlightenment is not just, not even primarily, a body of thought; it is that, but it is still more a social project and a social practice that was, in the majority of cases, taken up and implemented by state civil servants. This was not the case in England, where Enlightenment thought of the 17th and 18th century, the work of Bacon, Newton, Hobbes, Locke, Hooke, Boyle, Smith, Gibbon, Hume and Paine unfolded in a new civil society which had successfully freed itself from absolutism by the revolutions of 1640 and 1688. Nor was this the case in America, where Jefferson, Franklin, Paine and Madison were just as much at the cutting edge, freeing America from colonial domination. But the Enlightenment on the continent, to a great extent as ideology and above all as the practice of Enlightened absolutism, was statist through and through, from the philosophes and their dreams of benign Asian despots, to the Jacobins, to the Prussian reformers of 1808. In France, Spain, Portugal, the Italian states, Prussia, Sweden, Austria and Russia, (and in the Iberian and French colonies in the New World), the Enlightenment was the theory and practice of civil servants working for absolutist states. Voltaire at the Prussian court of Frederick II or Diderot at the Russian court of Catherine the Great are only the most memorable instances of the intertwining of the philosophes and the Enlightened absolutisms of their time. Even Napoleon, in a warped way, was spreading Enlightened statist reform through his conquest of Europe."
- "In this transition, an empty , atomistic space and time, based on an infinity understood as mere repetition (the infinitesimal) deflated and expelled a universe brimming with life, in which, further, human imagination was central. One need only think of Paracelsus, the peripatetic alchemist, astrologer, chemist, herbalist , tireless researcher and medical practitioner who called the human imagination "the star in man" (astrum in homine) and who placed it higher than the mere stars which preoccupied astronomers. But no figure is more exemplary than Kepler, who looked for the Platonic solids in the order of the solar system and who attempted to demonstrate that the distance between the planets was in accordance with the well-tempered tuning of the "music of the spheres". This was the world view-- the cosmology-- which was deflated and replaced by Newton's colorless, tasteless, odorless space and time, and the latter deflation reached into every domain of culture for 300 years. And this cosmobiological world view was an indisputable precursor of Marx's "sensuous transformative praxis" (sinnliche unwälzende Tätigkeit) and hence of modern socialism. By its notion of human participation of the constitution of the world (whereby it smacked of heresy for the Church), it was closer to Marx than any of the intervening Enlightenment views."
- "In reality, while most of the figures of Renaissance-Reformation cosmobiology were at least nominally Christian believers of one kind or another (although in the case of Bruno, one wonders) their significance is precisely that they represented a "third stream", an alternative to both the dominant Aristotelian scholasticism propagated by the Church and to the atomistic materialism that congealed in the Enlightenment. This "third stream" was also often combatted, along with atheist materialism, by the Church as the highest heresy.2 And this "third stream" and its significance were essentially hidden for three centuries by the Manichean portrait of the past developed by the Enlightenment and taken over in the ideology of modernity. This "third stream", of which again Kepler is the culminating figure, was hardly, as Enlightenment ideology portrayed it by assimilating it to "religion", hostile to science or to scientific research. Indeed, Kepler's work provided one part of the key to Newton's theory of universal gravitation. The "third stream" was of course characterized by many untenable a priori views such as the correspondence of the microcosm-man and the macrocosm-universe, or by Kepler's own search for Platonic form, as in a perfect Platonic circle in the orbit of the planets. Kepler passed over into modern science by abandoning that form for the empirically-discovered ellipse, but he got there by looking for it. The "third stream" had little or nothing to counter the successes of the Newtonian- atomist program, until the latter had exhausted itself. Nevertheless, a history of the science since Newton which has attempted to revive the "third stream", too complex to concern us here, would include names of the stature of Baader, Schelling, Oersted, Davy, Faraday, Goethe, W.R. Hamilton, Georg Cantor and Joseph Needham, and the issues they raise are far from settled. It is significant that neither the pro-Enlightenment Habermassians or the anti-Enlightenment deconstructionists and Foucauldian have much use for Renaissance- Reformation cosmobiology, and the reason is that all of them tacitly accept the Enlightenment linear view of history and progress as the sole possible kind of progress, in which the "third stream" disappears into the "religion" of the "dark ages". There is an unacknowledged agreement here between opposing sides which makes possible a recasting of the debate. This largely unspoken agreement accepts the division of the world between culture and nature, (or Geist and Natur as the Germans would say) and, however differently various figures may treat the world of consciousness, they concede the world of nature to the mechanists. Such a division was only possible after Newton and the ideological suppression of the cosmobiological "third stream", which, whatever its flaws, presented a unitary vision of consciousness and nature."
- "Stated briefly, the spirit of Marx's underlying world view is more truly the direct heir, the "realization" of the sensuousness of figures such as Shakespeare, the Brueghels and Paracelsus, than of any subsequent phase of the Anglo-French Enlightenment and its aftermath. One might well ask what such a critique of the Enlightenment, from the vantage point of Renaissance-Reformation "cosmobiology" means today, in political terms. What it means is this. From the French Revolution until the 1970's, the dominant currents of the Western left, and the movements it influenced in the colonial and post- colonial world, were indeed heirs of the Enlightenment. They were this because, in practice if not always in rhetoric, they inherited the tasks of completing the bourgeois revolution, tasks for which the Enlightenment, as the most advanced outlook of that revolution, was eminently suitable. First Social Democracy, from the 1860's onward, and then Stalinism, from the 1920's, took over a large part of the Enlightenment attitudes toward science, the state, technology, heavy industry, rationality, nature, a linear view of progress, philosophy and religion. That view was at bottom atomistic and mechanistic, even when dressed up as "dialectical materialism". Their statist development ideology and strategy was most successful in countries where no liberal bourgeoisie was strong enough to fight in its own name for the Enlightenment program against pre-capitalist social relations. Social Democracy and later Stalinism took over the full weight of Enlightenment statism of the continental variety. This was not surprising, since they gained influence mainly in the same backward countries in which Enlightenment statism had been successful, for essentially the same reasons. With the virtually universal spread of state bureaucracy for the century up to ca. 1975, whether in liberal democracy, Social Democracy, Stalinism or Third World nationalism, this Enlightenment ideology was rooted practically in a vast global stratum of middle-class state civil servants, whatever else they may have disagreed about. Not accidentally, their theory of history, when they felt they needed one, was articulated by the state civil servants par excellence Kant, Fichte and Hegel. The crisis of the Enlightenment today is the world-wide crisis of that state civil service stratum, welfare-statist, Stalinist or Third Worldist, and its inability after the mid- 1970's to continue to develop the productive forces and to advance their Enlightenment program, something they had done rather successfully in the previous century, particularly from 1945 to 1975. The international left is in crisis because it uncritically took over the Enlightenment, and thereby confused the tasks of the bourgeois revolution with those of the socialist revolution; the left's claims to fight for social emancipation got completely entwined with the state bureaucracy and civil service, which are irreducible obstacles to full social emancipation."