The Roots of Western Culture. Chapter 6: Classical Humanism
38 min read
38 min read
The fourth ground motive to gain hold of western culture was that of nature and freedom. Introduced into the historical development of the West by the great humanistic movement of the modern period, this motive gradually acquired undisputed leadership that lasted until the end of the nineteenth century. At that time humanism, itself began to experience a fundamental spiritual crisis while the powers of the Reformation and of Roman Catholicism freed themselves from the substrata of culture and renewed their participation in the great spiritual struggle for the future of western civilization. Today antihumanistic and antichristian forces have joined the conflict, the outcome of which we cannot yet predict.
It is humanism that first demands our attention. Particularly since the German occupation of Holland, the relationship of humanism to Christianity has been a crucial question. How must we understand humanism’s religious ground motive of nature and freedom? Against what background did humanism arise, and how did it develop? What led to its current crisis? These are fundamental questions which we shall attempt to answer.
We saw earlier that Roman Catholicism underwent a severe crisis at the close of the Middle Ages. The power position of the church, which embraced the whole of medieval society, began to fall apart. One life sphere after another wrested itself loose from the church’s power. Rooted in the ground motive of nature and grace, ecclesiastically unified culture began to disintegrate. In short, numerous indications pointed clearly to the dawning of a new age.
In this critical period a movement arose within late-medieval scholasticism that fractured the church’s artificial synthesis between the Greek view of nature and the Christian religion. This proved to be of decisive significance for the modern period. Denying any point of contact between nature and grace, this movement exposed the deep rift between the Christian religion and the Greek view of nature. Western culture seemed presented with two options: it could either pursue the “natural” direction which ultimately would lead to a complete emancipation of man from the faith of the church, or return to the pure ground motive of scripture, namely, creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ. The Renaissance movement, the early forerunner of humanism, followed the first path; with more or less consistency, the Reformation followed the second.
The Renaissance was basically concerned with a “rebirth” of man in an exclusively natural sense. The “new age” that dawned required a “new man” who would take his fate into his own hands and would no longer be faithfully devoted to the authorities. This is the ideal of the Risorgimento, the ideal of rebirth in the sense of the Renaissance. Rebirth was to occur through a revitalized participation in Greco-Roman culture, freed from the damage it had incurred in its accommodation to Christianity. But the Renaissance did not return to the original Greek religious ground motive. The deepest religious root of the Renaissance movement was the humanistic religion of human personality in its freedom (from every faith that claims allegiance) and in its autonomy (that is, the pretension that human personality is a law unto itself).
From the beginning the Renaissance revealed the inevitable conflicts between the Christian religion and the natural religion of human personality. For instance, the Italian Niccolò Machiavelli [1469-1527] was a fierce adversary of Christianity. The Christian message that one should love one’s enemy contradicted human virtu, human initiative and heroism. Virtu expressed the ideal of the heroic Renaissance man who could make Fortuna, blind fortune, serve his own ends.
However, humanism did not reveal itself in its first representatives in terms of these antichristian tendencies. Men like Erasmus [1466-1536], Rodolphus Agricola [1443 or 1444-1485], and Hugo Grotius [1583-1645] represented a “biblical humanism”; along with their admiration for the Greek and Roman classics they also pleaded for a free study and exegesis of scripture. They certainly did not attack the abiding doctrines of the Christian faith. To all appearances their sharp criticism of medieval scholasticism was intended as a return to the simple teachings of the gospel, and they greatly admired the church fathers, many of whom, after all, had also been steeped in classical culture.
But a more careful examination reveals that the real spiritual force behind “biblical humanism” was not the ground motive of the Christian religion. The biblical humanists viewed the Christian religion more as a moral code than as the revealed path of salvation for a human race lost in sin and spiritual death. Already among them the dignity of human personality stood at the centre of religious attention. When Erasmus, who remained a Roman Catholic, defended the moral freedom of the human will against Luther, his civilized and dispassionate argument must have compared favourably with Luther’s heated prose which expressed the basic convictions of the latter’s faith. But Erasmus lacked the profound Christian seriousness that moved the German Reformer. Humanism began to reveal its true intentions even before its emancipation from the authority of scripture was complete.
The new motive of freedom was inseparably linked to a new view of nature. As we saw earlier, in the Greek view of human nature the mysterious matter motive with its stress on inexorable fate had been the continuous and tragic counterforce to the optimistic form motive which emphasized the good and the beautiful in the cosmos. Likewise, the scriptural view of reality, which contained the teaching of a radical fall, cut off any superficial optimism about nature at the root. But humanism approached nature from a completely different frame of mind. Already the early Renaissance detached its conception of nature from both the Greek idea of fate and the Christian doctrine of radical depravity. Proudly conscious of his autonomy and freedom, modern man saw “nature” as an expansive arena for the explorations of his free personality, as a field of infinite possibilities in which the sovereignty of human personality must be revealed by a complete mastery of the phenomena of nature.
Copernicus’s discovery of the earth’s dual motion around its own axis and around the sun-revolutionized the traditional Aristotelian and Ptolemaic picture of the world, which viewed the earth as the fixed centre of the universe. Unjustifiably, the church continued to defend the old conception for many years, considering the centrality of the world in the history of salvation indispensable to the faith. In view of this, humanism proclaimed the Copernican world view as a new kind of gospel, turning against the authority of the church and scholasticism with revolutionary passion. When Galileo and Newton later laid the foundations for mathematical physics, thereby demonstrating that one could indeed control nature by discovering the fixed laws to which moving things are subject, humanism, driven by its religious personality ideal, embraced the new scientific method and elevated it to a science ideal that should be accepted as the directive in every area of science and that pretended to disclose the true coherence of the whole of reality.
The religious motive of the absolute freedom and autonomy of human personality did not permit scientific thought to proceed from a given creation order. The creation motive of the Christian religion gave way to faith in the creative power of scientific thought which seeks its ground of certainty only within itself. With this change, the idea of the autonomy of science was given a completely different meaning from that of Thomistic scholasticism. Although Thomas Aquinas had also taught that natural reason is autonomous with respect to the Christian faith and divine revelation, his position was wholly embedded in the roman catholic ground motive of nature and grace. Nature was merely the preamble to grace, and natural reason itself was brought to a higher stage of perfection by the supernatural gift of grace. As long as reason operates in a purely scientific manner, it can never lead to conclusions in the area of natural knowledge that conflict with the supranatural means of revelation. If seeming conflicts do arise, they are attributed to logical errors of thought, which Thomas promptly points out. Wherever Thomas followed Aristotle’s Greek view of nature, his idea of the autonomy of natural reason continually led him to adapt Aristotelian theory to roman catholic doctrine.
But the humanistic approach was very different. Humanism was controlled not by the roman catholic ground motive of nature and grace but by the modern motive of nature and freedom. Faith in the absolute autonomy of free personality could not tolerate a distinction between natural and supranatural truths. It could not endorse the roman catholic adaptation of autonomously discovered natural truths to the authoritatively binding teachings of the church.
By the same token, humanism also broke with the Greek view that the order of reality is anchored in an invisible world of forms. The humanistic science ideal could not possibly subscribe to the Greek “forms” which for Aristotle constituted the essence of perishable things. The Greek form-matter motive communicated nothing to modern man. For him the contemplative reflection of a ”beautiful world of forms” which brings measure and harmony to chaotic “matter” was but idle speculation. After all, the driving force of modern man’s scientific research was the ideal of complete mastery of nature by means of which the autonomous freedom of human personality-that is, its independence from supranatural powers-could be revealed.
It would soon be clear, however, that the new nature motive stood in religious conflict with the humanistic freedom motive, a conflict similar to the tension within with the Greek motive of form and matter and the roman catholic motive of nature and grace.
The religious ground motive of humanism is just as internally divided as the Greek and Roman Catholic ground motives were. It too bears a so-called dialectical character; that is, it consists of two religious motives which are in inner conflict with each other and which alternately drive
the stance and the world view of humanism from one pole to the other.
In essence, the nature motive of modern humanism is a motive of control. The control motive is intensely and religiously tied to the new freedom motive which originated in the humanistic religion of personality, the cult of the autonomous man who desires to make himself absolutely independent of every authority and of every “supranatural power” in order to take his fate into his own hands. Like Copernicus, who brought about a revolution in the traditional picture of the universe with the earth at its centre, so humanism brought about a revolution in the religious valuation of human personality. In the humanistic conception, this personality is the measure of all things, including religion. As the great philosopher Immanuel Kant declared near the end of the eighteenth century:
Our age is, in a special degree, the age of criticism, and to criticism everything must submit. Religion through its sanctity, and law-giving through its majesty, may seek to exempt themselves from it. But they then awaken the just suspicion, and cannot claim the sincere respect which reason accords only to that which has been able to sustain the test of free and open examination.
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St.Martin’s Press, 1965), p. 9.
When the motive of control arose out of the new religion of personality (with its motive of freedom), the conflict between “nature” and “freedom” soon began to reveal itself. For the control motive of autonomous man aims at subjecting “nature” and all its unlimited possibilities to man by means of the new method of mathematical science. Nowhere, in reality, does it tolerate the validity of limits to the operation of the natural-scientific method. The method of control thus expressed itself in the new science ideal which sought to grasp all of reality in a closed chain of cause and effect, a chain determined by the universal laws of mechanical motion. It will not accept the validity of anything as “truly real” if it does not fit into this chain of mechanical cause and effect. The firm ground of theoretical inquiry lies neither in a divine creation order nor in a realm of the eternal forms of being, as the Greek philosophers thought. The humanistic freedom motive sanctioned no other basis for theoretical thought than mathematical natural-scientific thinking itself. There was a profound conviction that the certainty of mathematics lay within mathematics itself with its exact methods of proof. Autonomous man trusts and depends upon the certainty of his thought.
But it was precisely when men first entertained the new science ideal seriously that great difficulties arose. When it became apparent that science determined all of reality as a flawless chain of cause and effect, it was dear that nothing in reality offered a place for human freedom. Human willing, thinking, and acting required the same mechanical explanation as did the motions of a machine. For if man himself belongs to nature, then he cannot possibly be free and autonomous. Nature and freedom, science ideal and personality ideal – they became enemies. A genuinely inner reconciliation between these antagonistic motives was impossible, since both were religious and thus absolute. Although the freedom motive had evoked the new motive of nature, each motive excluded the other. Humanism had no choice but to assign religious priority or primacy to one or the other.
Humanism’s self-conscious point of departure during the first period of its development (dating from the sixteenth to the seventeenth and the greater part of the eighteenth centuries) was the primacy of the new science ideal. Humanism believed that science would make modem man truly free and would raise him above the dogmatic prejudices of church doctrine. Science would bring true enlightenment that could oust pagan barbarism and the dark realm of medieval superstition. True freedom was sought where the foundation of modern science had been found in autonomous, lucid, and analytic thought.
But again, it was here that obstacles arose. Did not the new science ideal require that thinking itself be explained in terms of the mechanism of the soul’s motions? Indeed-at least if this science ideal with its new nature motive would be consistently applied. But already here some humanistic thinkers raised objections. The motive of freedom required that at least mathematical thought, the core and centre of free personality, be exempt from natural-scientific explanation.
Along these lines the founder of humanistic philosophy, the famous Frenchman Rene Descartes [1596-1650], drew a firm line between the bodily or material world and the human soul. Descartes limited “nature” to the material world. In this world the new science ideal reigned supreme; here it could explain all phenomena mechanistically. But the “human soul” was considered independent of the “natural body” as a substance or as a self-sufficient entity which depends on nothing outside of itself for its existence.
In Descartes’s estimation it was necessary that mathematical thinking be entirely free and autonomous. Finding its ground and validity in itself alone, mathematics was independent of sense impressions received from the “external, bodily world.” According to Descartes and his followers, mathematical concepts do not arise from sense perceptions of material things; rather, they find their guarantee in themselves.
Thus, in conformity with the dualistic motive of nature and freedom, Descartes split human existence into two rigorously distinguished parts: the material body and the thinking soul. The ultimate ground of scientific certitude and of moral freedom lay in consciousness, in the “I think.”
But the cartesian division between material reality and the thinking soul could not be maintained consistently. Under the leadership of the Englishman Thomas Hobbes [1588-1679], another stream of humanistic thought directed itself against Descartes’s dualistic view of reality which limited the nature motive in favour of the freedom motive. Hobbes, who witnessed both the revolution of England under Cromwell and the restoration of the British royal house, concurred entirely with Descartes in the humanistic ground motive that governed their thought. Confidently declaring war between modern science and the “kingdom of darkness,” Hobbes was an early apostle of the Enlightenment.
But in contrast to Descartes, Hobbes did not call a halt to the application of the new science ideal to what was believed to be the seat of human freedom, namely, autonomous thought and free will. Well versed in the new natural-scientific method of the great Italian scientist Galileo, with whom he had made personal contact during his travels, Hobbes aimed at applying Galileo’s method consistently, utilizing it in the areas of morality, law, political life, and even the motions of the human soul.
Like Descartes, Hobbes began his main philosophical work by a universal doubt in the reality that presents itself in daily experience. He suggested the following experiment to his readers. One should begin by mentally breaking down the whole of that reality to the extent that its truth is not guaranteed by scientific inquiry. Then with a conscious allusion to the creation story he argued that scientific thought must shed light upon the chaos and must systematically rebuild the world again by means of the exact scientific method. For Hobbes such a reconstruction required the simplest possible tools: strictly mathematically defined concepts. The new science of nature, which initially approaches reality exclusively in terms of its aspect of mechanical motion, must reduce all natural phenomena within its special field of investigation to phenomena of motion. In this way Hobbes analyzed sensorily perceived phenomena into their simplest components; counted, measured, weighed, and described in mathematical formulas, these components were the stepping-stones toward explaining more complex phenomena.
In Hobbes’s opinion this exact method provided the key to explaining all of reality. For this reason he could not acknowledge a boundary between “body” and “soul.” He reduced everything-including mathematical thinking to the motions of bodies. The fact that this reduction eliminated the basis for the human freedom of the will did not trouble him. Scientific integrity demanded that mathematical concepts themselves be understood as products of the mechanical motions of the soul, motions caused by the impressions of bodies in one’s psychical life. Clearly, then, the nature motive was dominant in Hobbes. And yet his vision that the new science charted the way toward human freedom testified to his solidarity with Descartes.
Hobbes’s system is commonly called “materialism.” His, however, was a modern and humanistic materialism, one driven by the religious force of a humanistic freedom motive that had dissolved itself into the nature motive. His materialism and the ancient materialism of the Greek nature philosophers had only their name in common. In the Greek philosophy of nature “matter” signified the eternally flowing, formless stream of life. Giving birth to whatever possessed individual shape and form, this life stream was understood as the divine origin of things. The modern concept of a mechanical law of nature was entirely unknown to the Greeks. While the modern concept of a natural law originated from the humanistic motive of nature and freedom, the Greek concept was governed entirely by the form motive of culture religion. Before the humanistic concept of natural laws could arise it was necessary that the modern view of nature be discovered; “nature” needed liberation from both the Greek idea of fate and the Christian idea of the fall into sin. “Nature” must be deprived of its “soul” before it can be subjected to human control.
We see, then, that humanism entangled itself in the dialectic of its own ground motive already at its first stormy appearance. Nature and freedom soon began to reveal their inherent conflict as religious motives. The first philosophical conflict between Descartes and Hobbes indicated the further development of this dialectic. At this stage, however, humanism still had the vitality of its youth. It was aware that the future of the West lay in its hands. Gradually, both Roman Catholicism and the Reformation were forced into the defensive, surrendering more and more of western culture to humanism. The sun of humanism was rising, and an optimistic faith in man’s creative power inspired its leading figures.
Humanism has humanized the Christian ground motive of creation, fall, and redemption within its own ground motive. Hence humanism is not a paganism; it passed through Christianity which it changed into a religion of human personality. Within a short time it also assimilated the ground motives of Greek culture and Roman Catholicism.
The new humanistic ground motive soon made its impact felt on the process of differentiation in society that had begun with the Renaissance. After the breakup of medieval ecclesiastical culture, the idea of the state began to break through in various countries in the form of absolute monarchies. Gradually absolute monarchs regained for the crown many of the prerogatives that had fallen into the hands of private lords under the feudal system. The new humanistic science ideal suggested an exact method by means of which this could best be done.
Humanism did not acknowledge that governmental authority is limited intrinsically by societal spheres grounded in the creation order. Such a recognition contradicted the autonomy and freedom of human personality, which humanism interpreted in accordance with its own religious ground motive. As long as modern man expects freedom and independence from the advance of the new exact sciences, the motive of nature or control will also govern his view of society. The “modern age” demanded a “new construction.” Humanistic thought directed itself particularly to the construction of the state. The new state, which was unknown in medieval society, was designed as an instrument of control that could gather all power to itself. Humanism assumed that science was as competent to construct this state as it was to manufacture the mechanical tools controlling the forces of nature. All current knowledge of society, which was still relatively incomplete, was consciously adapted to this constructionistic science ideal.
In sixteenth-century France Jean Bodin [1530-1596] laid the foundations for a humanistic political theory in his absolutistic concept of sovereignty. This concept formed the methodological starting point and cornerstone for his entire political theory. For Bodin the essential characteristic of sovereignty lay in its absolute competence or power unlimited by positive juridical boundaries. Although in conscience the government might indeed be bound by natural and divine law, it nevertheless stands above all positive rules of law which derive their validity only from the will of the government itself. No lawgiver frechtsvormer] in the non state spheres of life can appeal to a ground of authority that lies outside of the power of the state’s sovereign legislator. In the whole of society the formation of law must depend solely on the will of the state’s legislature, the only sovereign. Even customary law or common law, which in the Middle Ages was more significant that statutory law, was subject to either the implicit or explicit approval of the sovereign. The necessity of this requirement was understandable, since customary law clearly bore the stamp of an undifferentiated feudal system, the mortal enemy of the modern state.
The humanistic concept of sovereignty did not merely declare war on the undifferentiated societal relationships of the “Dark Ages.” Inspired by the modern ideal of science, it also aimed at guiding the incipient process of differentiation in order to guarantee the absolute sovereignty of the state over all the remaining life spheres. Among the differentiated societal bonds, the church had been the state’s most powerful rival. But now the time had arrived to bring the church under the sovereignty of the state. The Reformation and subsequent conflicts within Protestantism had excited denominational passions, and the unrest of the churches spilled over into politics, threatening the peace and unity of the state. Political humanism had only one remedy for this; viz., intervention by the state in the internal affairs of the church in order to force the church into a position of “tolerance” which would bring peace and unity back into the body politic.
This was also the solution offered by Hugo Grotius, an adherent of Bodin’s concept of sovereignty. Grotius was not only a representative of “biblical humanism” but also the founder of the humanistic theory of natural law. This new doctrine of natural law was also one of the heralds of the modern age. It became the champion for the reconstruction of the legal system necessitated by the breakthrough of the modern idea of the state. It sought a point of contact with classical Roman law with its sharp distinction between public law and private civil law, and, like the Roman jurists, based the latter in a law of nature whose basic principles were the inherent freedom and equality of all men. This humanistic doctrine of natural law stood in clear opposition to the undifferentiated indigenous law of the Germanic nations which was viewed as being in conflict with “natural reason.” Over against this, Grotius and his immediate followers intended to derive a comprehensive system of legal rules from the “rational, social nature” of man. Independently of human institutionalization, these rules were to hold for all times and all nations. To this end they employed the new mathematical and scientific method, the ground and certainty of modern man. In reality, however, it was largely classical Roman law that furnished the “rules of natural law.”
Grotius sought an autonomous basis for his doctrine of natural law, independent of ecclesiastical authority. As he himself declared, this foundation would hold even if God did not exist. As a ”biblical humanist” he hastily added that denying the existence of God is reprehensible; but this admonition did not alter the fact that for him an appeal to the “natural, social nature” of man was sufficient for the validity of natural law.
Grotius’s standpoint was completely different from the position of Thomas Aquinas which was based on the roman catholic ground motive of nature and grace. Thomas indeed taught that man can know certain principles of natural law and natural morality by the natural light of reason independent of divine revelation. But in the final analysis Thomas always referred these principles back to the “rational” wisdom of God the creator. Thomas and the other scholastics would never think of searching for an autonomously valid ground of natural law in “natural human reason” alone, a ground independent of even the existence of God. Only in the heretical trends of late scholasticism, which completely separated nature and grace, did these tendencies appear. Grotius’s conception of the basis of natural law as independent of the existence of God was a harbinger of the process of emancipation and secularization which came to fruition during the Enlightenment. The new humanistic freedom motive was the starting point of this process.
Characteristic of the new doctrine of natural law was its individualistic construction of societal spheres, particularly the sphere of the state. As long as the motive of nature and control was dominant in the humanistic doctrine of natural law, theorists unanimously defended Bodin’s absolutistic concept of sovereignty. Because its consistent application left no room for the free personality, the concept of sovereignty was made acceptable through the construction of a “social contract.” It was argued that by means of a social compact the originally free and equal individuals had surrendered their natural freedom voluntarily in order to bind themselves as a body politic. This was generally followed by a contract of authority and subjection, in which the people conferred authority to a sovereign and pledged obedience. In this way the free and autonomous individual consented to the absolute sovereignty of a ruler. He could therefore never complain of injustice.
When humanism accented the natural-scientific motive of control rather than the motive of freedom, it sought the ultimate ground of certainty in mathematical and natural-scientific thinking. Humanists were convinced that only the method of thought developed by modern mathematics and natural science teaches men to know reality as it is “in itself,” stripped of all the subjective additions and errors of human consciousness which victimize us in the naive experience of daily life. The new ideal of science came with great pretensions! It alone could unveil the true order and coherence of reality.
However, precisely at this point the first misgivings about the value of the exact sciences arose. The location of the ground of certainty lay in the exact concepts of subjective consciousness. But the more men explored this subjective consciousness itself, the more insistent the question of the actual origin of mathematical and natural-scientific concepts became. From where did these concepts derive their content? One could not deny that children and primitive peoples did not possess them. They must therefore have originated in the course of time. But from what did we form them? Here the problem of theoretical knowledge was immediately cast into psychological terms. It was assumed that inner human consciousness had only one window to the reality of the “external world.” This window was sensory perception as it functioned in the aspect of feeling. If consistently carried through, this assumption implies that the origin of mathematical and natural-scientific concepts can only lie in the sense impressions of the external world. But from these impressions one could derive neither exact mathematical relationships nor the mechanical laws of cause and effect that constituted the foundation of classical mechanics. Perception merely taught that there is a temporal sequence of sense impressions from fact A to fact B. It never demonstrated that B always and necessarily follows A, and yet this demonstration was what the laws of physical science required.
Faced with this predicament, the conclusion was reached that we cannot know to what extent the exact natural sciences assist us in understanding reality. Why then, we may ask, do we still accept the laws of causality? At this point humanism showed that it was unwilling to abandon its new science ideal. Its solution was as follows: if the law of cause and effect does not make us understand the coherence of reality as it is in itself, then this law must at least refer to a mechanical connection between our sense impressions.
David Hume’s well-known theory of the association of impressions and representations was the model for this view. The Scottish thinker Hume [1711-1776] explained the sequence of cause and effect entirely in terms of psychical association, arguing that if we repeatedly observe fact B following fact A, then at our next perception of A we necessarily connect A with the representation of B.
The critique of scientific thought begun by John Locke and continued by David Hume struck a serious blow to the “metaphysical” pretensions of the deterministic science ideal which claimed that science could furnish knowledge of reality as it is “in itself,” that is, independent of human consciousness. It seemed that the freedom motive, which had suffered under the overextension of the nature motive, might free itself from the deterministic ideal of science. If the natural-scientific laws do not correspond with objective reality, then science cannot claim the right to deny the freedom of man’s thought and will. But was modern man prepared to pay this price for reinstating his awareness of freedom and autonomy? Would he sacrifice the foundations of his science ideal to this end?
The epistemological attack on the science ideal was only a prelude to a widespread and critical reversal within the humanistic attitude to life. After his initial intoxication with science, modern man began to reflect on the deepest religious root and motive in his life. This deepest root was not modern natural science but the humanistic religion of personality with its motive of freedom. If the deterministic science ideal was unable to give the autonomous freedom of man its just due, then it should not occupy the dominant place in the humanistic worldview. If this is the case, then it is erroneous to search for the essence of man in scientific thought; then it is imperative that the motive of control, the dynamic behind the science ideal, be deprived of its religious priority. Primacy belongs to the freedom motive instead.
It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau [1712-1778] who called humanism to this critical self-examination. In 1750 he became famous overnight by submitting a paper in response to a competition organized by the university of Dijon. The topic was a favourite Enlightenment theme: what have modern science and culture contributed to the freedom and happiness of mankind? Rousseau’s answer was a passionate attack both on the supremacy of science in life and on all of modern, rationalistic culture. Rousseau argued that science had exchanged freedom and equality for slavery. Also in his later writings Rousseau remained a spokesman for the humanistic freedom motive. For him the root of human personality lay not in exact scientific thought but in the feeling of freedom.
Rousseau’s humanistic religion was not one of reason but of feeling. When he claimed that religion resides in the heart rather than in the mind, he regarded the “heart” not as the religious root of human life, as the scriptures teach, but as the seat of feeling. He also interpreted the nature motive in terms of a natural feeling of freedom. Man’s original natural state was a condition of innocence and happiness; individuals lived in freedom and in equality. But rationalistic culture brought man into slavery and misery. It created inequality and subjected nations to the rule of kings. As a result, no trace was left of the free and autonomous human personality.
Nevertheless, Rousseau did not believe that a return to the happy state of nature was possible. He had no desire to abandon the modem idea of the state. Rather, he sought to conceive of a body politic that would conform fully to the freedom motive of modern man. He envisioned a state in which the individual, after relinquishing his natural freedom and equality, could regain them in a higher form.
Certainly, in the first phase of humanism, Grotius, Hobbes, and other proponents of natural law attempted to justify the absolute sovereignty of the ruler before the forum of the humanistic freedom motive. Their point of departure too was a “state of nature” characterized by freedom and equality. The notion of a social contract was required to justify governmental authority. Under such a contract individuals voluntarily surrender their natural freedom and equality. In complete autonomy, they place themselves under a government. In this way, individuals can transfer their natural authority to the government, retaining nothing for themselves. Volenti non fit injuria: no injustice is done to one who wills it. One cannot complain of injustice if one agreed to the institution of absolute government.
John Locke [1632-1704] was among the first modern thinkers not satisfied with this natural-law construction of an absolute state. His starting points were the inalienable rights of life, property, and freedom, which could not be surrendered even in a contract. From the outset, therefore, Locke limited the content of the social contract to the goal of the peaceful enjoyment of man’s natural human rights in a civil state. Individuals relinquished to the government only their natural competence to defend their rights on their own behalf against intrusion from others. In this way Locke laid the basis for the classical liberal view of the state. According to this liberal approach the state is a limited liability company organized to protect the civil rights of life, liberty, and property.
Thus already in Locke’s classical liberal idea of the state we discover a reaction of the freedom motive against the nature motive which had governed the earlier conceptions of natural law. Rousseau, however, was not satisfied with this reaction. Like Locke, he proceeded from the free and inalienable rights of man. But Rousseau went beyond the essentially private-legal human rights, which constitute the foundation of private civil law, to the public-legal guarantee of the freedom and autonomy of human personality in the inalienable rights of the citizen. In this way Rousseau is the founder of the classical humanistic idea of democracy which soon clashed with the classical liberal conception of the state.
“Freedom and equality!” This was the indivisible slogan of the French Revolution, the death warrant for the remnants of the old regime [ancien regime]. It was inscribed in blood. Both during and after the Restoration period many spoke of the hollow and unrealistic tone of these revolutionary concepts. Such criticisms, however, were mistaken, and as a result many arrows missed the mark in attempts made to refute the principles of the French Revolution.
Undoubtedly, the principles of the French Revolution were governed by the humanistic ground motive. Locke and Rousseau were its apostles. However, the “natural-law” theories of these thinkers aimed at two concrete goals: a) the breakthrough of the idea of the state in terms of the final breakdown of the undifferentiated feudal structures; and b) the breakthrough of the fundamental idea of civil law, i.e., the idea of human rights. These goals could indeed be realized because they were entirely in line with the process of differentiation which had begun after the Middle Ages in western society and which was founded in the divine order for human history. Both goals presupposed the realization of freedom and equality in a specifically juridical sense, and not, for example, in an economic or social sense. Further, both belonged together; a civil-legal order cannot exist without the order of the state.
An authentic state is not really present as long as the authority to govern in effect belongs, as a feudal right, to the private prerogatives of a ruler who in turn can convey, sell, or lend them to officials of his realm or even to private persons. According to its nature and inner structure, the state is a res publica, a “public entity.” It is an institution qualified by public law, a community of government and subjects founded typically on a monopoly of sword power within a given territory. As Groen van Prinsterer declared in his second period, every true state has a republican character.
Thus the division of the forms of the state into monarchies and republics commonly made since Machiavelli is basically incorrect. The word republic indicates nothing whatsoever about the form of government. It merely signifies that the state is a public rather than a private institution. But the word monarchy does pertain to a form of government; the government here is monarchical, that is, a single person is the head of government. Conversely, the word monarchy does not relate to the question of whether a monarchy complies with the character of the state as a republic. Throughout the course of history many monarchies have lacked the character of a state, since governmental authority functioned not as an office serving the res publica but as the private property of a particular ruler. Governmental jurisdiction was an undifferentiated feudal prerogative. In such cases one should speak not of a state but of a realm (regnum), which was the property of a king. Not every realm is a state.
Nevertheless, the monarchical form of government is not incompatible with the character of a republic. Royal authority can function as the highest office within the res publica. The opposition between “monarchy” and “republic” arose only because the undifferentiated view of royal authority, as a private prerogative of the ruler, was maintained for such a long time precisely in the monarchical setting. This is also the reason why so many natural-law theorists in the humanist tradition linked the idea of the state to the idea of popular sovereignty. It seemed that only the sovereignty of the people complied with the view that the state is a res publica. Furthermore, in the light of the religious ground motive of humanism, popular sovereignty seemed the only way to justify governmental authority before the forum of the free and autonomous human personality.
Thomas Hobbes, with his keen intellect, quickly detected the weakness in the conception of popular sovereignty in which the people and the state were identified. After all, in this construction the “people” was but an aggregate of individuals who contracted with each other to relinquish their freedom and equality and thus entered a state relationship. But Hobbes clearly saw that without a government this “people” cannot form a political unity, a state. Only in the person of the government does the people become a corporate body capable of acting on its own. The government represents the unity of the people. For this reason Hobbes rejected the notion that people and government can be viewed as two equal parties that enter into a contract to settle the content of governmental authority. In view of this, Hobbes had no use for the notion of popular sovereignty which supposedly existed prior to and apart from the body politic. Only the government, as representative of the unity of the people, is the true sovereign. The people could never protest against the sovereign’s injustice, since its actions comprised the actions of the people. Although Hobbes first attempted to justify the absolute monarchy of the Stuarts, he had little difficulty in isolating his position from the monarchical form of government when the Puritan Revolution temporarily unseated the Stuarts, establishing authority of the English parliament. Sovereignty could also be vested in a body like parliament.
John Locke’s classical liberal political theory was directed against Hobbes’s absolutistic concept of sovereignty that left the people unprotected from their ruler. Locke reinstated popular sovereignty as the basis for the republican character of the state. However, he did not commit the error of linking popular sovereignty to a specific form of government, arguing only that the democratic form of government in the sense of a representative government guarantees the people’s freedom best. For Locke the crown merely represented the sovereign people even in an autocratic, monarchical form of government. If it was clear that the king no longer promoted the cause of the people and the common good, and if the people lacked democratic and parliamentary institutions, then the people could resort to revolution. In such a case the people only exercise their original right of sovereignty, for a despotic monarch who merely pursues his private interests is not the head of state but just a private person.
Thus in Locke the idea of the representation of the people acquired a republican sense that was genuinely related to the idea of the state. This republican feature distinguished the modern idea of representation from the feudal practices of the Middle Ages, when the estates (nobility, clergy, and townsmen) acted as the representatives of their respective “subjects” before their lords.
Locke’s political theory is a prime example of classical liberalism because he views the state as an association among individuals entered into for the purpose of establishing organized protection of the natural, inalienable human rights; i.e., liberty in the sense of private autonomy, property, and life. These natural human rights constitute the basis for the sphere of civil private law where all men without discrimination can enjoy legal freedom and equality. These rights were not transferred to the state in the social contract. The social compact transfers to the state only one’s natural freedom to defend one’s right to life, liberty, and property. In civil society every person is free, by means of labour, to acquire private property and to dispose of it autonomously. This freedom is guaranteed by the power of the state and subject to limitations required by the common good in accordance with the law.
The social contract is thus the avenue by means of which individuals decide to enter into the body politic for a specific and limited purpose. But the social contract also comprises a contract of authority whereby these individuals subject themselves once and for all to the will of the majority in the exercise of the most prominent right of sovereignty, viz., the institution of the power of legislation. The sovereign people thus possess what French theorists describe as the pouvoir constituant, the original legal power to institute a legislative body. The people exercise this legislative power only by means of representation, not directly as Rousseau argued in his radical democratic conception.
Locke’s liberal conception of the state did not imply a universal right to vote on the part of every citizen. He was perfectly satisfied with a limitation of the franchise to a socially privileged class, as was the case in the English constitutional monarchy of his day. Freedom and equality in “civil society,” in the private-legal order, did not at all imply equality in the political rights of the citizens, and certainly not a so-called “economic democracy.” Locke’s democratic ideal did not extend beyond the demands that the king exercise legislative power only through parliament, the constitutional representative of the people, and that the king be subject to all of parliament’s laws. His democratic ideal directed itself only against the private prerogative and divine right [droit divin] of the monarch, since both contradicted the humanistic idea of freedom and autonomy of the human personality. Oriented to what the English call “the rule of law,” Locke’s ideal must be understood against the background of the constitutional monarchy of William of Orange. Later this ideal itself came into conflict with the notion of radical democracy, the political gospel preached by Rousseau on the eve of the French Revolution.
For classical liberalism democracy was not an end in itself. Rather, it was a means to protect private civil rights. When democracy was later elevated to be an end in itself [Selbstzweck] on the basis of the humanistic freedom motive, democracy developed in an antiliberal manner. This line of development was Rousseau’s.
After Locke, the classical liberal idea of democracy was linked with the idea of the separation and balance of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the state. The French thinker Montesquieu [1689- 1755] was a major advocate of this doctrine. Taken together, then, the following configuration of ideas comprises the classical liberal idea of the law state [rechtsstaat]: the state is a representative democracy founded in popular sovereignty, subject to the constitutional supremacy of the legislature though with the greatest possible separation and balance of the state’s three powers, and organized to protect the individual’s civil rights. One can find a penetrating analysis of this position in the excellent dissertation by J.P.A. Mekkes, entitled The Development of the Humanistic Theories of the Constitutional State.
The humanistic freedom motive distinctly inspired the liberal idea of democracy. But in the context of classical liberalism this motive was expressed only in the doctrine of inalienable human rights, in the principles of civil legal freedom and equality. As we noted above, the political equality of citizens was definitely not a part of liberalism. The doctrine of the inalienable rights of citizens, in the sense of Rousseau’s radical democratic theory, is not of liberal origin.
But does this liberal conception of the law state embody the principle of pure democracy as seen in accordance with the humanistic freedom motive? Not at all! The entire principle of representation, especially when it is severed from the notion of universal franchise, is inherently at odds with the principle of pure democracy. Unquestionably, the liberal idea presupposed an aristocratic and elite foundation. The legislature merely represented the people within the republic. With or without the cooperation of a monarch, it exercised legislative authority independently of its constituents. The legislature was a people’s elite chosen according to the liberal standards of intellectual ability and wealth. The voters themselves belonged to an elite. According to liberal criteria, only they were capable of fulfilling this special political function. In view of his radically democratic standpoint, Rousseau’s judgment of this highly esteemed English liberalism was surprisingly mild when he wrote: “the English people believe that they are free. But they are mistaken. They are free only while choosing members of Parliament.”
In reality, the impact of classical liberalism on the development of the modern law state is a direct result of the absence of a consistent application of the democratic principle. This does not mean that liberalism -with its individualistic, humanistic basis and application-is acceptable to us. But we appreciate its blend of monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic elements which Calvin already recommended as a basis for the relatively best form of the state. Moreover, the principle of the independence of parliament over against the electorate is fully in harmony with the state as res publica. Further, the principle of an elite -when divorced from its indefensible ties to land ownership, capital, or the intellect – is an aristocratic element which the modern literature on democracy increasingly recognizes as a necessary counterforce to the anarchistic influence of the “masses” in government policy. Finally, Montesquieu’s famous teaching on separation and balance of powers within the state contains an important kernel of political wisdom which is easily overlooked by those critics who only see the untenability of this theory.
Certainly, little effort was needed to demonstrate the impossibility of an absolute separation of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary powers in the persons who occupied these offices. Opponents quickly pointed out that the separation of powers was not found in the English constitution, as Montesquieu had claimed. In our day some have attempted to salvage Montesquieu’s theory on the separation of powers by interpreting it as a mere separation of constitutional functions which could be combined in the same office-bearer. But this “correction” cuts the heart out of Montesquieu’s theory by interpreting it in a purely legal sense while it was intended as a political guideline. The French thinker aimed at a balance of political powers within the structure of the state. He sought to achieve this balance by placing the ” aristo-democratic” power of the people in the legislature and the “aristo-cratic” or monarchic power in the actual administration of the country’s affairs. It was clear that in his conception juridical power as such could have no political significance. For this reason he referred to this power as a kind of “nullity” [en quelque facon nulle] and as the mere “mouthpiece of the law” [la bouche de la loi]. From a constitutional point of view this of course cannot be maintained. The power of the judiciary, itself devoid of political significance, should not however be subject to the political influence of either the legislature or the executive. It had to function in the “balance” of powers for the protection of the rights of the individuals.
Viewed in this light, we see that Montesquieu merely elaborated the principle of “moderation” in democracy by a balanced blend of monarchical and aristocratic political forms. This was entirely in keeping with the liberal framework of Locke’s representative democracy. Locke too considered a balance of political powers essential, which was quite in harmony with the juridical supremacy of the legislator. He attempted to achieve this balance by limiting the frequency and duration of the legislative sessions, so that the executive branch in fulfilling its task would not be unduly influenced by political pressure from parliament. Although he did not include the judiciary in his triad of powers, Locke explicitly maintained that the independence and impartiality of the courts are necessary conditions for guaranteeing the liberties and rights of the individual.
What also deserves our attention is that the parliamentarism which developed in England under the foreign House of Hanover did not agree with the classical liberal idea of democracy. The political hegemony given to parliament and, behind it, to the political party electorally victorious under its “leader” was clearly in conflict with the liberal idea of balancing political powers. Parliamentarism in England was curbed by the nation’s self-discipline, adherence to tradition, sportsmanlike, spirit easily principle of of “fair play,” respect for individual rights, and acceptance of the principle of elitism. But in a country like France parliamentarism was easily transformed into a full-fledged radical democracy. The executive was reduced to a political tool of the assembly, and in turn the assembly became a political tool of the masses.
Modern commentators on democracy are fond of contrasting liberalism and democracy. Liberalism, they argue, is based on the principle of freedom; democracy, by contrast, on the principle of equality. When they battled their common foe – namely, the remnants of feudalism
the contrast between these two was not yet clear. As a result, the French Revolution was waged under the slogan of freedom, equality, and brotherhood.
But this approach is certainly based on a misunderstanding. It is an error caused by a lack of insight into the classical humanistic meaning of the concepts of freedom and equality. To be sure, a fundamental contrast exists between liberalism and radical democracy. Liberalism advocates a moderate democracy tempered by representative institutions, a balance between the monarchical power of the ruler and the legislative power of the assembly or parliament, and the independence of the judiciary to guarantee the citizen’s private rights of freedom.
Radical democracy could accept neither the representative system nor the liberal idea of separating and balancing the political powers. Nevertheless, as long as radical democracy rested on its classical humanistic basis, it too was driven, in an even more fundamental way, by the humanistic motive of freedom. Rousseau, the apostle of radical democracy, was also the spokesman for the humanistic ideal of freedom. He was the first thinker to attach religious primacy to the humanistic freedom motive, above the humanistic nature motive. To him autonomy, the free self-determination of human personality, was the highest religious good which far surpassed the classical science ideal of controlling natural phenomena through the natural-scientific research methods of the mind. In Rousseau’s radically democratic idea of the state, equality of citizens constituted a radical application of the humanistic principle of freedom in the structuration of the state.
For Locke, the father of classical liberalism, democracy was not end in itself. It was merely a means to protect the private autonomy of the individual in the free disposition of his property rights. Equality, in his view, belongs to the to the private-legal sphere of civil law – the sphere of civil society. The conception of natural law during his day was primarily concerned with retaining as much natural freedom as possible, the freedom that man enjoyed before the state was instituted. Locke made no radical attempt to apply the humanistic freedom motive to the exercise of political rights. He never referred to inalienable constitutional rights of citizens or to constitutional equality of citizens. For him it was self evident that an elite composed of the educated and of the rich should be the active participants in legislation. Even the election of legislators was limited to an elite. A large majority of citizens was expected to be content with a passive role in politics.
But for Rousseau the crucial issue was political freedom. He concerned himself with the inalienable rights of the citizen [droits du citoyen], in which the rights of man [droits de l’homme] were to be given public-legal expression. Rousseau was as it were religiously obsessed with guaranteeing the autonomous freedom of human personality within the constraints of the state. No element of free self-determination could be lost when man made the transition from the state of nature to the state of citizenship. If man surrendered but a part of his natural freedom in the social contract without receiving it again in the higher form of the inalienable rights of active citizenship, then self-determination was unattainable. To Rousseau a representative system like England’s assaulted the free self-determination of man. Sovereign people cannot be “represented,” for representation forces the people to surrender their rights of free self-determination to an elite which can then impose its own will on the people again and thus enslave them.
The liberal idea of separating political powers was entirely unacceptable to Rousseau for the same reason. The sovereignty of the people is indivisible, since the people’s inalienable right of free and sovereign self-determination is itself indivisible. What does it profit man – in Rousseau’s humanistic frame of reference – if he retains part of his private, natural freedom over against the state, but then subjects himself to laws not of his own free making in his public position as a citizen? A state of this kind is clearly illegitimate over against the inalienable claims of human personality. It remains an institution of slavery. Only in a state based on un-freedom and domination-a state therefore which is illegal before the tribunal of the humanistic ideal of personality-does the need arise to protect the private rights of man, the need to keep intact the remnant of natural liberties over against the tyrant.
But a state which is an authentic expression of the humanistic idea of freedom cannot possibly recognize the private freedom of the individual over against itself. Such a state must completely absorb the natural freedom of man into the higher form of political freedom, of active citizenship rights which inherently belong to all citizens equally and not merely to an elite among them. In a truly free state the individual cannot possess rights and liberties over against the res publica because in such a state the total freedom of the individual must come to expression.
In Rousseau’s natural-law conception of radical democracy, the individuals surrender all their natural freedom to the body politic in order to receive this freedom back, in a higher political sense, as members of the state. In a free state every citizen without distinction becomes a part of the sovereign people, a body which sets the law for itself. The right of legislation cannot be transferred; it is the primary right of the sovereign people itself. The law must be the expression of the truly autonomous communal will, the volonte general, which is never oriented to a private interest but always serves the public interest [salut public]. A true law cannot grant privileges to particular persons or groups, as in the feudal system. If the law imposes public burdens, they must affect all citizens equally. Here too the freedom of the body politic requires that all citizens be equal before the law. The government of the land can possess neither political power nor legal authority of its own. As magistrates, the rulers are merely servants of the sovereign people, removed at will.
Like Hobbes’s Leviathan, Rousseau’s radical democracy is totalitarian in every respect. It expresses the humanistic motive of freedom in a radically political way, in absolute antithesis to the biblical creation motive underlying the principle of sphere sovereignty. The notion of radical democracy contains the paradoxical conclusion that the highest freedom of man lies in the utter absolutism of the state. As Rousseau declared: “man must be forced to be free” [On les forcera d’etre libre].
But this criticism may not blind us to the important elements of truth in Rousseau’s classical humanistic conception of democracy. In distinction from the undifferentiated feudal notions of governmental authority, Rousseau’s idea of the state pointedly brought the res-publica conception to the foreground. He still viewed equality, the foundation of democracy, in a strictly political sense as an outgrowth of the citizen’s freedom within the state. Rousseau was not a victim of the inner decay of the democratic idea that we see around us today when men rob the principle of equality of its typically political meaning by applying it indiscriminately to all relationships of life. Surely, some of these leveling tendencies were noticeable among certain revolutionary groups during the French Revolution. Communism had already begun to announce its presence. But these trends could not persevere as long as the classical idea of the state, though itself a humanistic absolutization, retained its hard-won hold on the minds of men. The battle between “freedom” and “equality” could begin only when the idea of the state itself was drawn into humanism’s most recent process of decay.
We have sketched the development of humanism’s world view from its beginnings to its first inner crisis. We have seen that humanism was rooted in the religious ground motive of nature and freedom, a motive containing an irresolvable dualism.
Unquestionably, the freedom motive was humanism’s deeper driving force. This motive embodied itself in the modern ideal of the personality, the cult of the human person understood as an end in itself. Freed from all faith in given authority, human personality attempted to establish the law for itself in complete autonomy and according to its own rational standards.
The new view of nature was rooted in the freedom motive. It was not inspired by the Greek motive of form and matter. It also withdrew itself from both the ground motive of divine revelation and the roman catholic ground motive of nature and grace. Modem man saw “nature” as unrelated to and uninfluenced by “supranatural” powers; “nature” was conceived of as reality within space and time to be completely controlled by natural science and technology. Man believed that his freedom would achieve its highest expression in his mastery over nature. It was this belief that called forth the classical humanistic science ideal, which declared that the natural-scientific method could analyze and reconstruct reality as a completely determined and closed chain of cause and effect. This assumption was the basis of the classical humanistic motive of nature.
But we also saw that the consistent application of the nature motive left no place in reality for human freedom and autonomy. From the outset “nature” and “freedom” stood in an irreconcilable conflict. It was the growing awareness of this conflict that caused the first crisis of humanism. In solving the tensions between “nature” and “freedom,” some attempted to moderate the pretensions of the old ideal of science by limiting the validity of the laws of nature to sensorily perceivable phenomena. Above this sensory realm of “nature” there existed a “suprasensory” realm of moral freedom which was not governed by mechanical laws of nature but by norms or rules of conduct which presuppose the autonomy of human personality.
This was the solution to the basic religious issue of humanism prepared by the great German thinker Immanuel Kant [1724-1804] near the end of the eighteenth century, the “Age of Enlightenment.” Like Rousseau, Kant gave religious priority to the freedom motive of the modem personality ideal. Freedom, according to Kant, cannot be scientifically proven. For him science is always bound to sensory experience, to “natural reality” as understood in the limited context of Kant’s own conceptions. Freedom and autonomy of personality do not lie in sensory nature. They are practical ideas of man’s “reason”; their suprasensory reality remains a matter of faith. Such a belief is not the old faith rooted in ecclesiastical authority or in divine revelation; for faith subject to authority does not agree with the motive of freedom in modern humanism. Rather, as Kant formulated it, this is a “reasonable faith.” Rooted in autonomous reason itself, it is entirely in keeping with the autonomy of the human personality.
In Kant’s thought the chasm dividing science and faith runs parallel to the chasm separating nature from freedom. This deserves special attention because it dearly demonstrates that the modern division between faith and science, which in line with Kant many accept as a kind of gospel, is itself religious throughout. This must be dearly understood because this division between faith and science is used to disqualify every attempt at a biblically motivated inner reformation of scientific thought as an “attack on science itself.” But the separation itself is religious. Inspired by humanistic faith, this pretended division clashes with the true state of affairs. Wrestling to find his religious anchorage and to locate the firm ground of his life, modern man sought ultimate meaning in his autonomy and freedom as a rational, moral being. But this religious ground threatened to sink from under his feet since the classical science ideal left it no room. The first attempt to escape from this religious crisis consisted therefore in the separation of faith from science.
The religious passion that characterizes today’s defence of the “neutrality of science” reveals the true origin of this modern attitude toward science. The latter is rooted in the humanistic motive of freedom and constructed a “realm of nature” according to the view of reality prescribed by the classical science ideal.
The science ideal-even in Kant’s limited sense-had simply taken the place of the divine creation order in the modern humanistic consciousness. It proceeded from a conception which denied the given nature of the many aspects of reality, their particular character and the different laws which govern these respective aspects. This science ideal gave rise to the construction of a “mechanistic world view” which, though in recent years discredited by the facts themselves, still vitally shapes the outlook of many. The mechanistic standpoint rests on an overestimation and an absolutization of the mechanical phenomena that present themselves only in the aspect of motion, and then only in the so-called macro-processes, the large-scale processes which in an objective sense are accessible also to sensory perception. But when one conceives of the other distinct aspects of reality-such as the organic, the logical, the historical, etc. -in terms of mechanical motion, then the unrealistic picture of the classical science ideal results. One is then predisposed to think that all other sciences must operate according to the methods of mechanical physics, believing that organic processes, emotional feeling, the historical development of culture, logical processes, economic processes, and so forth must be scientifically approached and explained as processes of mechanical motion which are determined entirely within the chain of cause and effect. Under these assumptions the humanistic nature motive indeed has a free hand in the unfolding of science and will leave no room for the humanistic freedom motive. The classical ideal of science does not take into account the order of reality set by God the creator. In this order we detect the great diversity of aspects, each with its own irreducible nature and law, which proclaims the astonishing richness and harmony of God’s creative wisdom. The classical science ideal rejects this great diversity in the order of reality.
When Kant called a halt to the further expansion of the science ideal by keeping it out of the “suprasensory realm of freedom” the shelter of the humanistic personality ideal-he was motivated not by a respect for God’s creation order but by the humanistic freedom motive. This freedom motive could tolerate limits no more than the classical ideal of science could.
The ideal picture of reality designed in accordance with the mechanistic science motive was colourless and monotonous. It was as it were a modern moloch which devoured whatever became a victim of its suggestive power. Even the rarefied atmosphere of Kant’s world of ideas in the suprasensory realm of freedom could not withstand the influence of this view of reality. Under a different guise, the science ideal regained its former supremacy in the nineteenth century.
We have also seen how this science ideal influenced political theory to create a society after science’s own image. We have seen that the state was dissolved into an aggregate of individuals under the influence of the natural-scientific way of thinking. Binding themselves together contractually, the individuals subjected themselves to an absolutely sovereign authority. The modern state was constructed according to the mechanistic model of a machine-an instrument of control, as in the natural-law theory of Thomas Hobbes, the humanistic contemporary of Oliver Cromwell.
We also noted that the freedom motive in the humanistic doctrine of natural law reacted against this mechanistic and absolutistic picture of the state. Classical liberalism, defended also by Kant, sought to place the state in the service of individual freedom. But even the “free individual” remained an “element” of society. He displayed the unmistakable signs of natural-scientific thought of the day. Because of its overestimation of the individual, liberalism became unrealistic, colourless, and alien to social reality.
Nevertheless, the humanistic teaching of natural law had great significance for the evolution of both the modern idea of the state and the idea of civil private law with its basic principles of human rights, freedom, and equality before the law. The same must be said for the various conceptions of democracy developed on a humanistic basis: representative democracy and radical or direct democracy.
It is necessary that we keep the whole panorama of the first phase of humanism’s development clearly in view in order to understand the enormous reaction of the freedom motive against the classical way of thinking in humanism’s subsequent period.