The French Revolution of 1789 – probably the most momentous historical event on the European continent – was certainly not lacking in values, and I would suggest that we briefly remember two terms from this epoch, i.e. for this little essay, namely the term “freedom” (liberté) on the one hand and the term “equality” (égalité) on the other.
For the violent changes in the ‘power relations’ of that time, one can, in retrospect, identify three main causes:
1.) A climatic phenomenon (“The little ice age) and in the consequence of bad harvests thus the bread price.
(See also : The little ice age, point 6 or Philipp Blom ‘The world from the hinges”.
2.) a change of the economic conditions ( bourgeoisie )
3.) an all-embracing metaphysical crisis,
triggered by a banal instrument
(The binoculars of Copernicus)
This metaphysical crisis (of the religions), to come now quite fast to the actual topic, this crisis exerted then also in Germany a certain pressure on the prevailing power relations (since the church fulfilled a quite concrete social function – namely that of the “legitimation of the worldly power” (thus the aristocracy, the emperors and the kings)
in any case the “science” of that time suddenly felt compelled to take a stand on all these metaphysical questions (for which the religions had been responsible before)
and in this connection one speaks then of the “Copernican turn in philosophy
and if you type this into Google, then you land among other things at Immanuel Kant, at his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ and at the four antinomies.
The “doubt of God”, which Kant brought into the world at that time, was described so wonderfully and worth reading by a certain Heinrich Heine in his work “Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland” (On the history of religion and philosophy in Germany), that I’ll just copy it over very briefly like this:
“They say that night spirits are frightened when they see the sword of an executioner – how frightened they must be when Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” is held up to them! This book is the sword with which deism has been executed in Germany.
Honestly, you French, in comparison with us Germans you are tame and moderate. You have been able to kill at most one king, and he had already lost his head before you beheaded him. And you had to drum and shout and trample with your feet so much that it shook the whole world. One really does too much honor to Maximilian Robespierre if one compares him with Immanuel Kant. Maximilian Robespierre, the great philistine of the Rue Saint – Honoré, admittedly got his fits of destructive rage when it was a matter of royalty, and he then twitched terribly enough in his regicidal epilepsy; but as soon as there was talk of the highest being, he washed the white foam from his mouth again and the blood from his hands, and put on his blue Sunday coat, with the mirror buttons, and on top of that stuck a bouquet of flowers in front of his broad bib.
The life story of Immanuel Kant is difficult to describe. For he had neither life nor history. He lived a mechanically ordered, almost abstract haggard life, in a quiet secluded lane at Königsberg, an ancient city on the northeastern border of Germany. I don’t think that the great clock of the cathedral there performed its external daily work more dispassionately and regularly than its compatriot Immanuel Kant. Getting up, drinking coffee, writing, reading at college, eating, going for a walk, everything had its appointed time, and the neighbors knew exactly that the bell was half past three when Immanuel Kant, in his gray surcoat, the Spanish tube in his hand, stepped out of his front door and walked along the little linden avenue which, because of him, is still called the Philosopher’s Walk. Eight times he walked up and down it, in every season, and when the weather was gloomy or the gray clouds announced a rain, one saw his servant, the old lamp, anxiously walking behind him, with a long umbrella under his arm, like an image of Providence.
Strange contrast between the outer life of the man and his destructive, world-crushing thoughts! Truly, if the citizens of Königsberg had known the full significance of this thought, they would have felt a far more horrible awe before that man than before an executioner, before an executioner who only executes people – but the good people saw nothing else in him than a professor of philosophy, and when he walked by at the appointed hour, they greeted him in a friendly manner, and perhaps pointed their pocket watches at him.
But if Immanuel Kant, this great destroyer in the realm of thought, far surpassed Maximilian Robespierre in terrorism, he nevertheless has some similarities with the latter that invite a comparison of the two men. First, we find in both of them the same implacable, cutting, poetry-less, sober honesty. Then we find in both the same talent of distrust, only that the one exercises it against thoughts and calls it criticism, while the other uses it against men and titles it republican virtue. In the highest degree, however, the type of the philistine bourgeoisie shows itself in both – nature had destined them to weigh coffee and sugar, but fate wanted them to weigh other things, and put a king on the one and a god on the other’s wagon bowl …..”
Now it is certainly still today quite hip to discuss all these questions controversially in religion and philosophy forums lively, I always say, in the common hatred of art and culture grow together East and West (sarcasm) but, keyword East and West Germany, one could certainly state, that the wall that went through Germany also separated two fundamental intellectual currents – namely the concept of freedom on the one hand, and the concept of equality (socialism, communism, classless society) on the other (- and hey, there they are again, so the two terms from the introduction)
and if we want to understand the Russian militarism since the last world war, which is marching on the border to the (now free) Ukraine, then we have to keep in mind that from the Russian perspective nothing good has ever come from the European West (Napoleon, Wehrmacht, Von der Leyen).
In any case, in the aftermath of Kant, philosophy in Germany then separated into two-three main currents:
Into (historical) materialism (Marx), into German idealism and, extreme special case, into Nietzsche’s metaphysics. (Some assign him to the German idealism, but this is of course much too short).
Now Marxism is certainly still the most successful philosophical current worldwide, it is absolutely clear,
although in Germany of all countries the political protagonists of course don’t know what to do with the gifts of China (The given Marx
– I mean, the problem of the blatant intellectual mediocrity of our “political elite”, here in the country of judges and executioners, would really go beyond the scope of this small text…
Anyway, one can state finally that the attempt of Immanuel Kant to “objectify” “the metaphysical questions” (= Can one actually prove the dear Creator God scientifically?)
directly then led to Marx’s next attempt, i.e. to “objectify” the “social power structures”
(= “socialism is a science”)
– with all the very concrete historical consequences of the whole last century (Restoration, Hitler’s seizure of power (as a consequence of a fundamental misinterpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy) World War, Cold War – and just:
Militarism in Russia (and in China).
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)