Georg Lukacs. The crisis of bourgeois philosophy 1948
First published: in Existentialismus oder Marxismus, Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin, 1951 (in German)
Source: archive.org (in Russian)
Translated: by Anton P.
The fact of the crisis has been stated not only by us Marxists. The concept of “crisis” has long taken root in bourgeois philosophy. When, for example, Siegfried Marck, a famous neo-Hegelian, wanted to define Rickert’s place in the development of philosophy, he called him a thinker of the “pre-crisis era.” Indeed, if we carefully trace the development of bourgeois philosophy in recent decades, we will see that literally every two years the foundations of philosophy are again and again called into question. It is no coincidence that this development was initiated by Nietzsche’s program: a reassessment of all values. This continues endlessly in modern philosophy; a year during which a crisis did not break out in some area of philosophy is a year without any events.
But the most serious symptom of the crisis is the fact that at the end of this development stands the so-called “worldview” of fascism. And it can be argued that the resistance that was launched against it by bourgeois philosophy is equal to zero. Even the popularity of a significant part of those philosophical trends that fascism completely and undividedly contained in itself (think at least about Nietzscheanism), remained, as before, in wide circles of opponents of Nazism completely inviolable.
So, the fact of the crisis can hardly be disputed. It is more difficult to characterize it and carry out criticism from a historical and, in a narrow sense, from a philosophical point of view. Here the question immediately arises: what in the philosophy of the era of imperialism turns out to be specifically new, is it radically new, and if so, how much?
In such matters, we need to be careful. During the debates over the program of the Russian Communist Party, Lenin protested against the opinion shared by some that when analyzing the economic structure and laws of imperialism, one could supposedly abstract from them the general development of capitalism. I believe that this methodological statement of Lenin’s remains valid in the ideological and philosophical sphere. The philosophy of imperialism can be understood and criticized only within the framework of the general interconnections of capitalist society. After all, there is no doubt that, despite all the modifications, the impact of universal economic foundations is also expressed in philosophy.
We can observe this relationship even at the most superficial level; for example, in the fact that modern philosophy constantly uses the systems of the past. So, in particular, the influence of Kant is obvious up to Chamberlain and through him to Rosenberg; Sartre uses Descartes, while German irrationalism asserts that modern philosophy, starting with Descartes, has gone astray, etc. In this eternal, restless search for more and more primary sources, signs of crisis also appear – on a historical scale. After all, these indecisive searches, this uncertainty betray an irresistible feeling that philosophy has gone astray.
Where and when did it get lost? Where should it go back to find the right path?
What’s new in the philosophy of the era of imperialism? On the whole, it is a mental reflection of imperialism itself as the highest and therefore the most contradictory stage of capitalism. The contradictions of capitalist society, which until now determined the path of development, the form and content of bourgeois philosophy, are now revealed at the height of their objective contradiction. This means not just a corresponding aggravation, since for the bourgeois class not to recognize this fundamental contradiction is a matter of life and death.
Objectively, the deeper and more insurmountable the contradictions are, the faster becomes the process leading to the emergence of a crisis: the separation of development paths from philosophical thinking and social reality. But here we are also talking about something else. The problem lies not only in the opposition between the world of bourgeois thinking and the social reality of imperialism, but also in the real, essential course of development of this social reality and in the immediately visible surface that hides this reality. Therefore, perhaps, thinkers who, in the final analysis, are honest, in their writings completely turn social reality upside down, since they slavishly adhere to this deceptive surface.
This opposition is an inevitable problem in bourgeois thinking. The fundamental ideological form of the phenomena of capitalist society is fetishization. This means, in a nutshell, that for individuals living in the vicious circle of superficial phenomena of capitalist society, relations between people, although often mediated by things, appear as things; human relations are reified, fetishized. The most obvious, elementary form of this fetishization is one of the fundamental phenomena of capitalist production, the commodity. A commodity, both in its origin and in its further functioning as a commodity, is a mediating link in specific human relations (capitalist and worker, buyer and seller). There must be absolutely specific social, economic circumstances, that is, completely specific human relations, so that the result of human labor, the product of the labor of human hands, becomes a commodity. As long as the capitalist social order hides these interconnections, makes them impenetrable and it is increasingly obscured by the fact that the commodity form of a product is only a reflection of a specific relationship between people, these relationships crystallize and become independent characteristics of the commodity (for example, price), they turn out to be characteristics of things, like some natural characteristics, they seem to be inherent in the commodity, like the sweetness of sugar or the color of a rose. And the farther a phenomenon is from real production, the more empty, soulless becomes a fetish, and the more it materializes, the more significantly it takes possession of thinking at the same time. The imperialist development of the capitalist world, in particular the transformation of finance capital into a governing force, increasingly intensifies the general fetishization, and the more difficult and unpromising becomes the task of exposing reification, since the interrelationships that underlie this fetishization as essential are more and more obscured by fog.
Here it is important for philosophy that getting stuck in fetishization means moving in an anti-dialectical direction. The more often society in bourgeois thinking turns out to be a chaotic accumulation of dead things and material relationships, and not – in accordance with reality – a continuous and continuously changing reproduction of relations between people (classes), the more unfavorable for dialectical thinking such a position should become. This process, which begins in this way, is further intensified by the parasitism of the imperialist era. Most of the intelligentsia is so far removed from the labor process that determines the real structure and laws of movement of society, is so deeply embedded in the world of secondary or tertiary phenomena of aggregate social production, which it perceives as primary, that the intellectual exposure of fetishization becomes downright impossible.
That is, the distance of thoughts reflecting surface phenomena from reality is so great that any change in social development reveals itself to thinking as an unexpected, gaping abyss, manifests itself as a crisis, as an endless series of crises.
But if we assert that there is a constant philosophical crisis within imperialism, then, on the other hand, we must still distinguish between separate stages: before 1914, the philosophical crisis is relatively latent; and only after 1918 it becomes obvious to everyone.
All this is just a general ideological characteristic of the era of imperialism. However, philosophy is a special ideological form, the development of which does not always parallel the development of other ideological forms, for example, the exact sciences or literature. The peculiarity of philosophy consists, in short, in particular of its very subject, which covers existence and the ultimate questions of cognition, that is, a worldview raised to an abstract and generalized level. Whereas where the immediate subject is the immediately given social (or natural) reality (and not just its abstract embodiment, its generalized principles), a bold and impartial consideration of reality can often correct worldview distortions. For example, we often see in literature how individual writers, otherwise enclosed together with their opinions within a fetishized worldview, de-fetishize through their writings, through the depiction of life and reality what seemed to them a thing perceptible as a human relationship. In contrast, philosophy deals with the latter principles; here the material does not create such opposition. Its subject does not give the possibility of such a correction that breaks through the personal limited opinion of the thinker.
Based on these considerations, we can now try to identify the main epochs in the development of bourgeois philosophy, so that with the help of this historical survey we can more clearly understand the special distinguishing features of the epoch of imperialism.
The first era is classical bourgeois philosophy lasts somewhere until the end of the first third of the 19th century, up to a maximum until 1848. At this time, the most perfect intellectual expression of the bourgeois worldview, the intellectual denial of the feudal social order and its culture arises. Philosophy formulates the fundamental principles and universal worldview of this great, progressive liberation movement that is transforming society. A revolutionary breakthrough is taking place in logic, in the natural and social sciences, which expresses the universal nature of philosophy – the fact that it takes a fruitful part in solving key specific problems of the natural and social sciences and, on their basis, rises to the highest generalizations. This gives it the character of universality, fruitful for the sciences and opening up great prospects.
What is this philosophy from the class point of view? The answer, it would seem, is simple, but in specific circumstances it is unusually confused: after all, it is the great universal world-historical interests of the class that is objectively called upon to transform the entire social world in a progressive direction to its very foundations. These interests are expressed in the works of classical philosophy. Therefore, this philosophy is closely connected with the great, world-historically significant goals and with the battles that are being fought for their implementation. This is the origin of a powerful and heightened sense of reality among the great thinkers of this era. Even the mistakes of these thinkers are mistakes of a world-historical nature, since they stem from heroic illusions necessary from the point of view of world history.
From such a strong and deep intertwining of philosophers with the world-historical interests of the emerging bourgeois class follows their relative independence from momentary class tactics and especially from individual estates of this class. This provides serious opportunities for criticism. Criticism comes from within, since it is based on the great historical vocation of its own class, which gives philosophers the courage to clearly and decisively take a definite position. However, since this courage is not just individual, because, on the contrary, it is based in the most serious way on the connection of thinkers with the class they represent, insofar as, acting on behalf of this world-historical vocation, they are full of pathos in the awareness of the need to sharply criticize deviations from the necessary world-historical path.
The revolution of 1830, and even more so the revolution of 1848, testifies to the fact that the bourgeoisie has ceased to be the leading progressive class. Thus, the process of disintegration of classical bourgeois philosophy begins, which completed itself with the revolution of 1848. Thus, philosophy is entering a new phase of development, which continued somewhere before the beginning of the era of imperialism. The onslaught of the bourgeois class against feudal remnants has come to an end; in relation to the rapidly rising proletariat defensive positions are taken. Another very important process of the era of bourgeois revolutions, the formation of national states, ended in the same way, and the formation of German and Italian national unity took place in a reactionary form. This time was the era of oppressive class compromises, the era of Napoleon III and Bismarck. The old bourgeois democracy has been steadily declining since 1848 and even disintegrating. Liberalism and democracy sharply diverge, oppose each other in a hostile way; liberalism turns into conservative “national liberalism.” The economic background of this process of the disintegration of democracy is the rapid offensive of capitalist production in Western and Central Europe. It would seem that from now on capitalism will move forward without any problems and boundaries. (These considerations do not apply to Russia. In economic and political development, and as a result of this also in the ideological struggle in Russia, 1905, by and large, corresponds to 1848 in Western and Central Europe. Therefore, in the second half of the 19th century, such thinkers like Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov could still live in Russia.)
The philosophy of this era is an intellectual reflection of class compromise. Philosophy refuses to answer key worldview questions. Agnosticism has become an intellectual, theoretical and cognitive expression of this tendency: we cannot know anything about the true essence of the world, reality, and it does not matter at all whether we know anything about it. What is important is that individual knowledge which is developed and accumulated by the isolated from each other special sciences and which serves to find absolutely necessary satisfactory solutions to problems that arise in everyday practical life. The role of philosophy is limited to ensuring that no one crosses the established boundaries of cognition of the essence, so that no one draws such conclusions from the economic and social sciences that would question capitalism as the only blessed social order, or might conflict with religious beliefs. This philosophy fundamentally rejects the worldview question as a question that science cannot approach, that is insoluble in the scientific sense.
Of course, this philosophy, which is mainly expressed in the form of neo-Kantianism or positivism, is not the only philosophy of this era, it just occupies a dominant position there. Along with it, experiments have been carried out for some time on the last, philosophically defective renewal of the old mechanistic materialism (Moleschott, Büchner, etc.); along with it, especially in intellectual circles, Schopenhauer is extremely important as a philosophical exponent of the ideas of hopeless pessimism, who proclaimed the renunciation of a completely meaningless life.
The dominant philosophy is the philosophy of the professors (Kathederphilosophie). Along with psychology that was developing then, its content was almost entirely the theory of knowledge. Philosophy itself becomes a special science, and this is just the other side of the decisive, principled rejection of any ideological issues. Thus, it renounces its former social role of being a form of intellectual expression of the great world-historical interests of the developing class. Due to the fact that it is ready to occupy a borderline ideological post, necessary for the then bourgeoisie and inevitable from the point of view of a lasting class compromise with the reaction, the bourgeoisie is becoming increasingly indifferent to individual steps and results, methods and content of “special philosophical science.” The bourgeoisie fully entrusts the elaboration of these details to the intelligentsia, and in the first place to the intelligentsia involved in the bureaucracy, in the state apparatus. So this stratum, which has become relatively independent in accordance with the developing capitalist division of labor, turns into a social carrier of such a new philosophy.
However, this independence is very relative; its sine qua non is the faithful performance of the aforementioned “border post” service. Thus, in a new period in the development of bourgeois philosophy, the intelligentsia, which has become relatively independent, turns into a social agent of philosophy, and the form and content of philosophy, in fact, are determined by the special problems of this stratum. However, in that era, not only did the spirit of philosophy radically change, but (in what precisely determines the change in its spirit) the social function of the intelligentsia, directly creating philosophy, did not remain the same. Previously, it spoke on behalf of the great world-historical perspectives of the progressive, nascent bourgeoisie. These prospects were destroyed during the defensive battles that were fought against the proletariat, within the class compromise after 1848. The philosophical claims of the bourgeois class have narrowed to principles that draw clear boundaries, have become negative. Within these boundaries, the intelligentsia and individuals belonging to it could, as it seemed, move relatively freely, without being attached to anything. Philosophy became more and more an internal affair of the intelligentsia. The bourgeoisie is completely indifferent to what doctrines individual professors proclaim, provided that they adhere to the boundaries that have been set for philosophy. Philosophical departments are sinking deeper and deeper into the vacuum of social indifference.
How does the philosophy of the era of imperialism relate to its predecessors? It would seem that the rise begins. Philosophy again becomes “interesting,” of course, only for wider circles of the intelligentsia. The bourgeois class will remain extremely indifferent to it in the future. From an external point of view, the new philosophy acts as an opponent of Kathederphilosophie, which continues to live to this day, and to a large extent in the old style. Many leading philosophers of this time spoke outside the universities (Nietzsche, Spengler, Keyserling, Klages). Simmel and Scheler have also been outsiders for a long time. Gradually, the new trend spreads to some universities, and there “interestingness” also becomes a principle of choice (Croce, Bergson, Huizinga, etc.). Has there been a radical change here? We believe not. In fact, there was an even greater shift in the direction that emerged after 1848: the intelligentsia makes philosophy for the intelligentsia. However, even here, as we will see later in a detailed analysis, a strictly bourgeois class-determinism exists, but now it does not act as a factor that directly determines the forms and content, but as a reflection of the space of possibilities of movement that corresponds to this class and is limited by virtue of its interests, in which the intelligentsia, it would seem, can freely create. This class definiteness takes a concrete form in fascism. Fascism translates all “achievements” of imperialist philosophy into the most reactionary language of the national and social demagogy of monopoly capitalism, the most reactionary of all; from the pulpits, from salons, from the coffee shops, fascism brings them out into the streets.
What does the “interestingness” thus arising, the relative independence of philosophy mean? It means that the bourgeois intelligentsia proceeds from its special position, touches upon its own special problems, and more decisively, more consciously than in the times preceding imperialism. (Here the fact is also expressed that now the role of the free intelligentsia is more significant in comparison with the role of the bureaucratic intelligentsia of the previous era.) Proceeding from this, philosophy poses its own individual concrete questions, which from time to time are in apparent opposition to the bourgeois class, although the reserved zone of bourgeois class interests is still completely seeure.
What follows from what has been said regarding the content and form of the new philosophy? First of all, we see that the basis of bourgeois existence is never subjected to any genuine criticism. After all, the knowledge of the economic foundations of bourgeois society among representatives of the new philosophy is increasingly declining, even a simple intention to seriously get acquainted with them and critically examine them as philosophical problems is becoming increasingly rare. At the same time, the voice of criticism seems to grow louder, but this criticism concerns almost exclusively private morality and culture in a narrower sense, that is, those issues that most directly concern the intelligentsia. This consistent evasion, avoiding any problems of the economy, society, social life is precisely the strict observance of boundaries, established by the imperialist bourgeoisie for the field to which philosophy extends, and thereby provided it with a platform, free space for its special problems, in which it could again be “interesting” and even make revolutionary gestures. (This evasion of economic, social problems, problems of social life, although it coincides objectively with the class requirements of the imperialist bourgeoisie, at the same time it spontaneously grows out of the very existence of the intelligentsia in the society of the imperialist era. Therefore, it is possible that some philosophers unconsciously submitted to the wishes of the imperialist bourgeoisie in spite of the faithful observance of the boundaries set by the class; however, objectively this is the case, even if subjectively it happened for some unconsciously and with the best intentions.)
But this is precisely why the fundamental independence, the fundamental critical attitude, will become increasingly weaker (think, for example, of Hobbes, Rousseau, or Fichte in the classical era). There are many utopias about the transformation of culture, perhaps in a “more revolutionary” form than Nietzsche’s, but the economic and political foundations of capitalism remain intact. Nietzsche most sharply criticizes the cultural symptoms of the capitalist division of labor, but he, however, does not intend to encroach on the capitalist system of labor itself.
The focus of philosophical criticism, often with a “revolutionary” sweep taken almost to the extreme, is the criticism of the idea of progress. However, no one says (in many cases, neither the thinker nor his intelligent public knows anything about this) that such a “risky” statement of the question is only an ideological reflection of the hostile bourgeoisie towards the progress of development, its compromise with reactionary remnants of society that this question in the era of imperialism takes on such acute forms because within imperialist monopoly capitalism the alliance of the leading class of capitalist production with all reactionary social forces is significantly strengthened. Reactionary content and revolutionary gestures form an original and curious marriage. Let’s think about Lagarde, Nietzsche, Sorel, Ortega y Gasset. On the eve of the seizure of power by fascism, Hans Freyer summed up the results in a short slogan: revolution on the right.
In connection with this development, in parallel with the fact that worldview issues come to the fore, the attitude of philosophy to religion is also changing. In the previous era, agnostic boundaries served only to make materialist atheism philosophically impossible and discredit it. The turn to a positivist worldview leads partly to a new justification of religion, partly to the creation of a new religious atheism, whose worldview and moral content, however, forms the complete opposite of materialist atheism. We can trace these changes from Nietzsche to the existentialism of Heidegger and Sartre.
At the same time, in the era of imperialism, the natural sciences, in the main direction of their popularization, are turning into a weapon of the reactionary world outlook. In the preceding epoch, reactionary philosophy initially took a defensive position here. Agnosticism, “ignorabimus” by Emile du Bois-Reymond, was just one more counterweight to the worldview conclusions of Haeckel’s materialism. However, in the school of Mach-Avenarius-Poincaré, an open defense of reactionary views was spreading. In the era of imperialism, this trend was constantly increasing, philosophy interpreted each new achievement in the field of natural sciences as confirmation of a reactionary worldview, supposedly based on facts.
Speaking about the theoretical and cognitive basis of all these phenomena, it should be noted: the subjective idealism of the previous era is still the main theory of knowledge. This is not an accident, since idealism is a “natural,” spontaneously growing worldview of the intelligentsia, especially the free intelligentsia. Labor, which ultimately determines people’s attitude to the world, in its essence has a double bottom: labor itself demonstrates a state of affairs in which the existence of the material world does not depend on consciousness; but at the same time, any labor process has a teleological character, that is, a person is aware of a mentally imagined goal before the material labor process begins. As the intelligentsia is increasingly moving away from the material process of labor, in her consciousness, to an ever increasing degree, the second moment is almost exclusively at work. The more the intellectual class is removed from real labor, from practical contact with the material categories of reality, the more this motive affects it. Therefore, it may happen that natural scientists in their special work – often contrary to their own philosophical convictions – turn out to be spontaneous materialists. Rickert, for example, regrets that prominent scientists in their field have recognized themselves as supporters of “naive realism.” The wider the independent, special role of the intelligentsia in philosophy becomes, the more significant is subjective idealism in the theory of knowledge.
But even if we assert that this theoretical and cognitive basis remained intact, at the same time, we must take into account that – in comparison with the previous era – there has been a significant change in the philosophy of the era of imperialism. The most important moments of this change are: a feigned striving for objectivity, then, the struggle against the formalism of the theory of knowledge, its apparent overcoming and the associated triumph of mystical intuition, which is brought into the spotlight as a new instrument of philosophical knowledge, and, finally, a new formulation of the ideological question instead of the consistent agnosticism of the previous era.
All these moments arise from the needs of the era of imperialism. They are all symptoms of a crisis in philosophy. Satisfaction with the eternal, seemingly unshakable social environment, the appearance of a calm social and political upsurge (the so-called Sekuritat, that is, security) formed such a spiritual attitude and such a course of action in philosophy that made it possible to convey all substantive problems (all reality) to special sciences, industrial development and, last but not least, to the “wise managers” of the state apparatus, of course, with strict observance of theoretical and cognitive boundaries.
The fact that the need for a worldview comes to the fore is already a sign of a crisis, or at least a harbinger of it. It is felt that, despite the apparent stabilization, even the strengthening of the surface, the foundations were shaken. Most importantly, the intellectual class, inclined to philosophical generalizations, reacts sensitively to the impending crisis; long before 1914, this problem was becoming tangible in a significant part of imperialist philosophy. One way or another, by this time the signs of the crisis have finally become universal; they are embodied mainly in anxiety about the preservation of the integrity of individuals in the face of disunity due to the capitalist division of labor, in the discovery of insoluble contradictions, arising within the capitalist and imperialist culture (however, here the contradictions of capitalist culture are not discussed, as elsewhere, but the contradictions of culture as a whole). The most prominent exponent of the philosophy of this latent crisis is Simmel.
It may sound paradoxical if we say that the need for a worldview is a sign of a crisis. But the truth, as always, is concrete. Therefore, let us look at the social function of the question of worldview in the three eras of bourgeois thinking described above. A powerful, comprehensive worldview developed in classical bourgeois philosophy; philosophy at that time was the most influential, basic and generalizing science, and in accordance with this, the worldview was the last content of scientific philosophy, which organically ascended on the rise of bourgeois society and which led scientific activity at certain stages of development to its highest point and completed it. The economically favorable epoch of class compromises cowardly and sluggishly turned away from any ideological issue, considered dealing with these issues excessive, characterized, with a shrug, the desire for the worldview of the previous great era as unscientific. In contrast to this, the intelligentsia, irresistibly approaching a crisis and ultimately dragged into a whirlpool of crises, rapidly replacing each other, hoped to find in the ideology, which it fanned out to a worldview, consolation, reassurance and reconciliation with fate.
But, thus, we again come to a paradox: how can the gloomy pessimism of Nietzsche or Spengler, Klages or Heidegger provide consolation? This paradox is originally inherent in the impact of philosophical idealism due to the fact that idealism – in an anti-historical, abstract spirit – depicts the special fate of a person in the era of imperialism as an eternal fate and creates a philosophical method that acts in a similar way. After all – as paradoxical as it may sound – it is in such resignation to fate that consolation lies; think about amor fati (love of fate) in Nietzsche, about life directed towards death in Heidegger, about “heroically” embellished pessimism and fatalism in proto-fascism (Spengler) and among the fascists, etc. (Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard are the harbingers of these directions). People are not expected to be satisfied when there is no reason for this, when for thinking people the feeling of satisfaction is completely impossible. Although it should not be forgotten that modern thinkers, such as Keyserling or Jaspers, have pointed to a similar closed private life that excludes any sociality, which is satisfied with itself, the ideological basis of which is built precisely on deep pessimism in relation to the general world process.
At the same time, the dissatisfaction caused by the crisis never turns against the capitalist foundations. The bourgeois intelligentsia, under the impression of the crisis, does not oppose the economic and social order of capitalism. This once again testifies to the fact that the nucleus of modern philosophy lies within the intelligentsia itself. Here, the direct and crude praise of the capitalist order no longer comes to the fore, as was the case with hired and voluntary agents. On the contrary, one of the central philosophical themes, the importance of which, moreover, is increasing is the seeming criticism of capitalist culture, always oriented only towards secondary symptoms. During the crisis, the ideology of the “third way” increasingly brings to the fore in the public sense the worldview in which it is declared, that neither capitalism nor socialism is the correct direction for the development of mankind. (By default, the precondition of this concept is the recognition that it is impossible to theoretically defend the capitalist order as it is.) Since capitalism becomes philosophically indefensible directly, the purpose of the “third way” in the philosophy of history is to keep the intelligentsia in crisis from making socialist conclusions. Thus, this “third way” also becomes a pillar of capitalism, its defense, only now it is not through direct, but through indirect apologetics.
So, in the worldview of the era of imperialism, the struggle against socialism is increasingly becoming its main problem; it is a philosophical struggle against dialectical materialism, that is, both against materialism and against dialectics. In terms of worldview, this means, first of all, the exclusion of economic and social positions from philosophy. Since philosophy is not able to make serious arguments against the social views of socialism, it poses the question as if Marxist political economy had been “refuted long ago” by the bourgeois economic sciences, and, thus, the task of philosophy is limited to belittling the worldview significance of economic and social positions, to slander them. And since bourgeois sociology is also “scientifically” isolated from economics, as it becomes a completely separate science, the relationship of philosophy to sociology is radically changed in comparison with the past. The philosophy of that time refuted the scientific validity of sociology, the current philosophy accepts it. Indeed, during an acute crisis, sociology is increasingly becoming (mainly as the “sociology of knowledge” by Scheler and Mannheim) even an instrument of worldview relativism. The often reactionary sociology that emerged from it later (Fryer, Carl Schmitt) falls straight into the fascist worldview.
Another theater of the ideological war in which the battle against socialism is being fought is the deployment of philosophical theories hostile to progress. Here we are also talking about the fact that bourgeois philosophy, since it cannot bring up any serious and convincing counter-arguments against the progressive prospects of socialism, seeks partly to destroy the ideas of progress itself, both in the natural and social sciences, and partly to mystify development, at the same time, it goes into those perspectives that become comprehensible for the crisis-ridden intelligentsia and correspond, if not to the real history, then at least to its [the intelligentsia’s – G. L.] dreams. From the unification of the two trends in the ideology of fascism and its predecessors, racial theory emerges as a mythical solution to the “secrets” of society and history.
It is clear, firstly, that all this means a challenge to historical materialism also in the event that we do not find in some particular philosopher an explicit polemic against it. Secondly, the fact is that the socialist worldview in Western and Central Europe did not have such a profound and powerful influence on the intelligentsia as it should have been in accordance with the general influence of the labor movement. This successful influence of bourgeois philosophy was greatly facilitated by reformism. First of all, reformism challenges the ideological character of Marxism; it considers Marx to be a “narrow specialist” in economics and sociology, and such a narrow specialist, whose methods and results of research, thanks to scientific development – partially or completely – are already outstripped. Therefore, reformism is only consistent when its ideologists try to “supplement” Marxism with Kant (Max Adler) or Mach (Friedrich Adler); the most consistent representative of reformism (Bernstein) takes a resolute anti-dialectical position, considering dialectics an outdated and misleading method. There is strong opposition to reformism as a political outlook in Central and Western Europe, but as a world outlook, the defenders of dialectical materialism could not force themselves to be heard seriously. This ideological weakness of the labor movement in Central and Western Europe affected the world outlook of the still poorly represented bourgeois-democratic, anti-imperialist opposition. And here there is no serious resistance to the general reactionary philosophy of imperialism.
In this regard, we can move on to the main issues of the era of imperialism. To begin with, let us examine the problem of objectivity that arises at the basis of the subjective-idealistic theory of knowledge. We have already mentioned the “third way” in the theory of knowledge. On the one hand, it appears in Nietzsche, on the other, in Mach and Avenarius, from there it leads through Husserl to the ontology of existentialism, which, although it recognizes an existence independent of consciousness, nevertheless adheres to the old idealistic methods in its definition, cognition and interpretation. The theory of knowledge of the previous epoch resolutely rejected the cognizability of objective reality. The “third way,” while retaining all the principles of the subjective-idealistic theory of knowledge, blurs the boundaries and poses questions as if ideas and concepts that exist only in consciousness are already objective reality themselves.
What does that reality mean, that reality about which this philosophy is talking? (Bourgeois philosophy always distinguishes between idealism and “realism.” The word “materialism” is condemned and never uttered.) Mach and the neo-Kantians, marking the transition to the era of imperialism, create a theory of knowledge that makes terminological concessions to the practice of natural scientists and together at the same time dulls the philosophical edge of their “naive realism.” If, following Berkeley, we identify reality with representation, then in this case, at least in the statements of philosophers, there is only a uniform reality; but it is essentially identical with subjective idealistic reality. Thus arising agnosticism is, however, radically different from the agnosticism of the previous era. Engels could rightfully call it “shy materialism,” since the doctrine of the unknowability of reality would mean here only that philosophy did not even wish to comprehend the achievements of the natural sciences in a world outlook. The Mach school goes beyond this negative attitude; its agnosticism means that the achievements of natural science are wholly and completely consistent with any reactionary worldview.
However, development did not stop there either. In its modern form, agnosticism turns into mysticism and myth-making. From this point of view, the figure of Nietzsche is of decisive importance for the entire development of imperialism. One could even say that he created a model for constructing myths for the entire imperialist era. Here we can draw the reader’s attention only to some of the leading motives. First of all, the role of “body” and “corporeality” should be noted. Nietzsche breaks with the abstract “spirituality” of university philosophy and its philistine morality. He invents such a theory of knowledge and morality, which takes under the protection of the rights of sensual life and yet does not compromise with philosophical materialism. It goes without saying that the form of philosophy of such an immaterial body can only be mythological.
But this is only a part of Nietzsche’s biologism and the psychology allegedly growing out of it, which in Nietzsche takes the place of social science. This foundation is supplemented and brought to its logical conclusion by the mythical perspective of human development, the world process, the approval of imperialism, the creation of a new aristocracy and opposition to socialism with the help of a biological myth. (This laid the philosophical foundation for racial theory.)
This is not the place to analyze other myths (Bergson, Spengler, Klages, etc.). We just want to add some fundamental remarks. The myths that arise in this way should not be confused with those elements of some ancient philosophical teachings that, on a superficial examination, function as myth. Any idealism, not being highly agnostic, immediately turns into a myth as soon as it tries to explain real phenomena, for it is forced to ascribe a real role to mental constructions in reality.
The more philosophy approaches objective idealism, the stronger the construction becomes in it, turning into a myth. In Fichte’s “absolute I” it is expressed more distinctly than in Kant’s “pure consciousness,” and in Hegel’s “world spirit” it is even stronger than in Fichte’s. But even these mental constructs, accepted as reality, still contain elements of its serious study. Everywhere here one can recognize those real elements for which these constructions are their first discovery and at the same time a mental distortion. These thought constructs, which function as myths, create a philosophical fog prior to the sunrise of true knowledge.
A completely opposite situation is unfolding in the philosophy of the era of imperialism. The mental construction, the myth, turns here against the already victorious scientific knowledge; the first task of the myth is to obscure the social consequences of scientific knowledge. Already at the very beginning of this development, this happens with the conclusions of Darwinism in the mythologization of Nietzsche. The myth appears – with a certain naivety – not as one of the parts of scientific cognition, as in the classical era, but as a supposedly qualitatively higher one and, if necessary, disavowing scientific attitude to the world.
The social function of this “worldview,” that is, the myth, is to instill a socially acceptable picture of the world where science is unable to provide a perspective, or, wherever the perspective of science is opposed to what is defended by imperialist philosophy, to instill a socially acceptable picture of the world, instead of scientifically contradicting it.
This is how the paradoxical essence of imperialist philosophy arises: on the one hand, the agnostic subjective-idealist theory of knowledge remains inviolable, on the other hand, diagnostics receives a completely new function; by turning into a myth, by passing into a myth, it creates a new, imaginary objectivity.
The new concept of objectivity presupposes a new tool of cognition. The central problem of the philosophy of the era of imperialism is what is cognition acting in a new way and its instrument is intuition, which is opposed to conceptual, rational thinking. In fact, it is the case that intuition constitutes the psychological element of any working method of science. And with regard to intuition, psychologically, there arises an immediate semblance that it is supposedly more concrete, more synthetic than abstract, discursive thinking that works with concepts. However, this is only an illusion, since from a psychological point of view, intuition is nothing more than a sudden awareness of an unconsciously occurring thought process.
And for conscientious scientific thought, a serious task will be, firstly, verification of these intuitively achieved results in order to clarify their scientific validity and, secondly, their organic introduction into the system of rational concepts so that later it would be impossible to distinguish which of them were discovered with the help of the discursive ability of a person (that is, consciously), and which ones through intuition (which arises first at the threshold of consciousness and only then becomes conscious). Intuition here is, on the one hand, an addition to conceptual thinking, and in no way its opposite; on the other hand, the intuitive detection of a connection will never turn into a criterion of truth. With a superficial observation of the process of scientific work, the illusion arises that intuition is an organ of cognition independent of abstract thinking, designed to comprehend higher or deeper relations.
This illusion, which is supported by the general subjectivism of the philosophy of the era of imperialism, appears as a result of the acceptance of the subjective working method for an objective method and becomes the basis of the modern theory of intuitionism. This illusion, due to the substitution taking place here, rises to dialectical knowledge. From a subjectivist perspective, it is reasonable to assume that dialectical contradiction is realized on the path of concepts, while we owe intuition to its synthetic resolution and release into a higher unity. Of course, this is an illusion, for real dialectics expresses each of its synthesis only with the help of concepts, and none of its synthesis can be considered as a final given. Genuine scientific dialectical thinking, since it is a correct reflection of objects of the real world, always contains conceptual connection and conceptual analysis of ideas. Therefore, intuition is not an organ of cognition and not an element of the scientific method. All these arguments were clearly stated by Hegel in the preface to the Phenomenology of Mind, opposing Schelling.
In the philosophy of the era of imperialism, intuition, on the contrary, is given a central place within objective methodology. The need for this arises, first of all, because thinkers reject the formalism of the theory of knowledge of the past era. They should abandon it, since the very search for a certain “worldview” already presupposes a meaningful posing of questions. However, the subjective-idealistic doctrine of cognition, by virtue of necessity, is engaged in a purely formal analysis of concepts, and not in their dialectical, mental expression. If thinking crosses these boundaries and strives for philosophical knowledge of the real content, then, on the one hand, it must rely on the materialist theory of reflection and, on the other hand, on the dialectical conceptual coherence of the world, and on such a coherence of the world which is understood not only as a static relation between objectivities and structures, but also as a dynamic relation in development (or in forward motion) and thus in a reasonable history. For modern philosophy, intuition is a tool that helps to abandon the formalism of the theory of knowledge and, at the same time, from subjective idealism and (imaginary) agnosticism, without the slightest shock of their foundations.
Such a philosophy will constantly encounter a contradiction, since the content to which it seeks, and the worldview reality that it wants to achieve, is regarded as impossible for expression in a concept and as a qualitatively different, higher reality. In this regard, the simple fact of intuition gives rise to an imaginary idea that it is, they say, a symbol of illumination and understanding of this higher world. This gives rise to the problem of refuting criticism from the side of conceptual analysis, which is vitally important for the new philosophy. This ability for self-defense appears in intuition already at the level of the aristocratic theory of knowledge in a similar form in ancient philosophy (and even partly in ancient religious mysticism). This is evidenced by the point of view, according to which not everyone is given an intuitive comprehension of the highest reality. That is, the one who is looking for conceptual criteria for intuitive understanding only confirms that he is denied the gift of discretion of the highest reality. Such criticism is just the exposure of its own inconsistency, just as in Andersen’s fairy tale, every person was wrong if they did not see a beautiful new dress on the naked king. Such a “theory of knowledge” is necessary for intuition, if only because, in fact, any “reality” thus comprehended is arbitrary and uncontrollable. Intuition as an organ of higher knowledge is at the same time a justification for this arbitrariness.
So, we have approached the essence of the worldview of the era of imperialism. Once again, we recall that for classical philosophy, the worldview was the problem of scientific knowledge and was a scientific picture of the world; but the transitional era rejected the scientific worldview and found insurmountable difficulties where special scientific knowledge turned out to be insufficient for understanding the phenomena. Imperialist philosophy continues to pile up obstacles in the theory of knowledge and completes the process by creating a super-scientific worldview hostile to science with the help of a new organ of cognition, that is, with the help of intuition.
The main feature of the new worldview is the overthrow of the domination of reason, its debunking. Romanticism, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard are the predecessors of this trend, Dilthey marks the transition to a new era; Nietzsche, Bergson, Spengler, Klages and, finally, existentialism appear as the most important stages of this development. We repeat: the basis of the theory of knowledge is invariably formed by agnosticism and the accompanying relativism. If in the past epoch it was possible to be content with this statement of the fundamental unknowability of reality, then the new philosophy goes further than this; it begins to fight against rational thinking and against reason. Simmel, in one of his works, examines the latest results of modern science from the position of relativistic criticism and compares it with the criticism with which the Enlightenment approached superstition, magic, etc. Based on this, he considers it possible to conclude: We have good reason to believe that the coming centuries will view the significant results of modern science in the same way as we view superstition. Relativistic agnosticism and doubt in everything, consistently carried to the end, open the way that leads to the myth of the new world and to a world that is essentially hostile to reason, or at least irrational, if not superintelligent. On the eve of World War I, Bergson formulated this philosophy most emphatically. During the general crisis after 1918, hostility towards reason is embodied in a concrete philosophy of history, which, through Spengler, Klages and Heidegger, leads to a diabolical, fascist vision of the world.
If we examine the specific content of this irrationality, then we will see its close connection with the philosophical teachings of antiquity and see that it only enriched the weak sides of bourgeois philosophy in general with timely accents. This philosophy, which is not dialectical and therefore not truly creative in the historical sense, generalizes the essence of reality, fanning modernity to “eternal law” and “eternal existence.” At the time of the belief in the eternity of capitalism, even before the eyes of historians inclined to empiricism (Mommsen, Pelmann), the whole history was unfolding within capitalist forms of life; the abstract ethics of Kantianism supported this trend. In times of the crisis of imperialism, when everything is unstable, everything is in disarray, when the bourgeois intelligentsia is forced to observe, as the next day refutes what seemed indestructible today, it is faced with a choice. It must admit either its own defeat or the defeat of reason. The first path means recognizing your inability to comprehend reality in thought. Here it would be the turn of reason, but it is from this rationality that bourgeois thinking must withdraw. It is impossible to recognize this defeat from a bourgeois standpoint, for that would mean a transition to the camp of socialism. Therefore, at the crossroads, the bourgeois intelligentsia must choose a different path; it must proclaim the collapse of reason. Of course, this is possible in such a form in which philosophy allows reason to be possible as the subjective side of the relationship to the real world, but as the subjective side of such a connection, in which the subjective mind is refuted every moment by reality (Scheler: powerlessness of reason; Benda, Valery). However, this is not a general path, not the dominant direction of crisis philosophy. For the leading bourgeois thinkers, reason does not exist at all in reality; true reality, the highest reality, is irrational, hostile to reason. Philosophy must recognize this fundamental fact of human life, and this is how a new worldview of crisis philosophy arises – irrationalism.
This development is facilitated and accelerated by the fact that capitalism, especially in its imperialist stage, unusually narrows the concrete space for the realization of the individual in life. If we look at this question in the abstract, there are two possibilities for reaction. It can understand the relationship of this position with capitalist society and economy and draw conclusions from it. Timid attempts at such activities are present at the beginning of the era of imperialism, in places somewhere in Nietzsche’s Romantic criticism of capitalist culture, in Simmel’s general criticism of culture, in his theory of the “tragedy of culture.” But everywhere here the mythologized, indirectly apologetic “third way” is being realized. In Nietzsche it is like a mythical vision of a “new society.” With Simmel, it is like a perfect inward-turning, the exclusive individual turning-in-oneself, moreover, the external world, the soulless fetishization of capitalist society, directly contributes to the problems of pure internal individualism. The soulless “rationality” of the fetishized capitalist world thus becomes for Simmel a launching pad for the individual’s transition to higher irrationality, to the higher reality of pure individual inner being. Here the most important motive of the irrationalist worldview is already appearing – the desire to mystify the situation of people under imperialist capitalism as a “common human destiny.” Parallel to this, there is a methodological division into two parts. Everything that is natural from a social point of view, that corresponds to reason, is now, according to this philosophy, hostile to the individual, inhuman. The individual is inherently hostile to reason, irrational (this idea appears already in the imperialist neo-Kantianism of Windelband and Rickert). To dress up this concept in multi-colored myths and paint it – this is what fully corresponds to the general need of the time, first of all, the “third way” in social thought. Proceeding from the perspective of opposing the base inhuman reason and the highest, human irrational reality, capitalism and socialism are completely analogous, they even coincide; both are systems of the soulless mind. In the name of individual irrational experiences, an ideological struggle should be waged against both (the school of Stefan George, Klages). Fascism adopts this method from head to toe, however, with some demagogic, roughening additions (Romantic-reactionary criticism of liberalism combined with anti-Semitic social demagogy!).
Let’s look at least a little at the methodology of irrationalism. Even Hegel showed that if in formal thinking the necessary contradictions of reason are revealed (it does not matter whether it is in the course of logical reasoning or in a collision with reality), then the appearance of irrationality is the direct form of the phenomenon of the problem. The task of dialectics is precisely to show here a higher unity of opposites; and if ιτ succeeds, then it turns out that it is precisely in the contradictions of reason, in bringing them to the limit, in the appearance of irrationality, that hints of a higher rationality are laid, that they contain an incentive to achieve a higher level, a higher form of reason. But from the philosophy of imperialism, as we have seen, the dialectical method was expelled from the very beginning.
We are faced with a similar problem in the science of knowledge, generated by the capitalist division of labor, in connection with the attitude to certain special sciences. Here they appear before us strictly and clearly separated from each other. For each of them, reason, on the basis of its non-dialectical categories, creates a special formal method. Therefore, the relations that in a particular science can be considered in accordance with reason, as soon as they appear in another science, begin to seem to have an irrational content, indicating irrationalism is immutable. In order to give a typical example, I will point to the philosophy of law of the famous neo-Kantian Kelsen. In his struggle with the problem of legislation, that is, the emergence of the content of law, – a problem which modern sociology, at the very least, but considered as its own special problem – he concludes that the emergence of the content of law is a “big secret” for the science of law. On the other hand, the formal validity of law becomes exactly the same secret for bourgeois political economy, etc.
As soon as the need for a common perception of the world, a world order arises in society, “science of the spirit” and “history of the spirit” appear as overcoming such scientific and theoretical difficulties. In contrast to the preceding epoch and its epigones, a certain interconnection, totality is sought, but, as clearly follows from what has been said above, on a false basis. For a universal basis of individual sciences can be found only where it is not sought: in a uniform, economically determined, socio-historical development. It is clear that bourgeois thought cannot follow this path, because it would require the revision of each separate science on the basis of the dialectical-materialist method. The new era could not and did not want to touch upon those fundamental contradictions that, due to the non-dialectical nature of their method, faced specific sciences that arose on the basis of the capitalist division of labor: after all, as we have seen, it has completely adopted the subjective-idealist theory of knowledge, which creates the philosophical basis of its methods.
Therefore, the synthesis carried out by the spiritual sciences can offer something new only if it extols irrational relations as a myth. Since the time of Dilthey’s “brilliant views,” intuition has everywhere become the dominant method of synthesis in the sciences of the spirit. The result is that in the course of intuitive comprehension, new fetishistic symbols appear, which are inflated by a new renewed fetishization, a new mythologization to (true, purely “individual,” irrational) images of reality. Although the history of the spirit can also achieve certain specific historical results, but only when it departs from its own method, when it turns to the real comprehension of society. (We find separate studies of this kind already in Dilthey.)
The result is a vivid, in places spiritualized imaginary solution to all philosophical problems. The “ingenious” arbitrariness of intuition is becoming the generally accepted method of philosophy. Nietzsche still spoke about this arbitrariness quite openly, later more and more attempts were made to disguise it, to throw a veil of objectivity on it; in its most refined form, this occurs where completely speculative phenomenology becomes the study of reality, the science of reality, ontology (existentialism). The fact that here we are talking about an imaginary solution is evident from the fact that, despite new methods, despite radiant fantasies or dark, “deep,” logical and at the same time antilogical philosophical and historical myths, all questions of philosophy remain unresolved; even from the fact that philosophy lags far behind in comparison with the results that were achieved in the classical period.
A similar question is, first of all, the relationship between thinking and reality, and in the closest connection with it – the problem of the internal construction of logic itself. Irrationalism means a return to the old; it fixes the opposition between reality and the categories of reason, that is, not yet dialectical, based on the formal logic of thinking, as the last, irresistible opposition. As we have seen, irrationalism means partly a philosophical “justification” of arbitrarily created myths, partly that theoretical philosophy gets stuck in formal logic again. The very claim of intuition to a special aristocratic greatness, to an understanding of the “higher,” inaccessible to an ordinary person, puts theoretical philosophy in the prison of formal logic, which the philosophers of the classical period have already destroyed.
Hence the problem of freedom and necessity arises. While classical philosophy has significantly clarified its true position, since it concretized it (Hegel), now again the abstract, absolute – and in this absoluteness has become meaningless – concept of freedom opposes frozen and mechanical fatalism. This is most clearly seen in Nietzsche, Spengler, and more recently in Sartre. The so-called “worldview” of fascism is a caricature of this abstract, frozen, that in its frozen abstraction has lost its meaning.
Fascism is in fact a caricature of the crisis of modern philosophy. But at the same time, this caricature has long been a protracted, bloody reality. And an important symptom of the crisis of bourgeois philosophy is the fact that the so-called “worldview” of fascism originates from it, that it brought nothing but demagogic coarsening and simplification of the ideas of imperialist bourgeois philosophy, which Nietzsche began to develop. But this is precisely why only dialectical materialism offered serious resistance to fascism in the ideological struggle. Although the anti-fascist humanism of bourgeois ideologists protested against certain manifestations of fascism and even against the fact of its barbaric existence, it was never able to oppose to the imaginary fascist worldview – to this irrationalist myth inflated into the scale of a worldview – a new, truly progressive worldview. French existentialism differs socially from the proto-fascist Heidegger in that its first abstract “no” does not speak to the crisis reality in general, but to fascism. However, this “no” is still completely abstract.
And this is no coincidence. After all, the overwhelming majority of anti-fascist thinkers proceed in their worldview and method from the same position from which the enemy proceeded. But if they nevertheless set themselves the goal of proving that Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were humanists, that their ideas are interpreted humanistically, then this new interpretation will necessarily be helpless in comparison with fascism, which, albeit vulgarly, developed the main tendencies in Schopenhauer’s and Nietzsche’s ideas.
The crisis of bourgeois philosophy continues. A clear symptom of the crisis is the fact that liberation from fascist intellectual terror did not lead to any changes in bourgeois philosophy. Bourgeois philosophy (as opposed to advanced literature) continued its path from where it left off before the advent of fascism. From this point of view, the emergence of existentialism is also indicative of a crisis. The problems of the new world are reflected today only in dialectical materialism, only here they have clear, ideological outlines. This is also no coincidence. Today, no one knows how long capitalism will be able to hold out until socialism replaces it all over the world. However, nothing indicates the ability of today’s bourgeoisie to build an independent, comprehensive, progressive worldview.