Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deconstructing Archetypes

Part 21 of Prisoners of the Real

Archetypes are ideal patterns. Stereotypes are their negative images. The latter can be useful, however, when looking at extreme tendencies. Among the archetypes described by Carl Jung were the extroverts and introverts, with aspects that often overlapped. Of Jung's extroverts, two were rational types – the thinking and feeling rational extroverts. The tool users and time keepers of our rationally-managed world illustrate both qualities. The technician and the rhinoceros, meanwhile, lay at two poles of rationalism – the extremes of the Individualist and the Organization Man.

The Organization Man is a collective rationalist, agreeing with Plato on the need for a unity of social and political goals. The Individualist, in contrast, is a libertarian rationalist, favoring a popular sovereignty that celebrates diversity and protects humanity's natural right of independent enterprise. The Organization Man tends toward the absolute; he wants order in a complex world. The Individualist tends toward the democratic, seeking complexity though it may ultimately lead to chaos.

The "satisficing" leader is the model of the Organization Man, one who makes all questions political matters and hopes that the ends will justify the means. The "pure" researcher personifies the Individualist. For the researcher all questions are "technical," as knowledge is refined in pieces and technical means become ends. The "satisficer" looks for workability and practicality within a bureaucratically-managed system. The "pure" researcher hopes to optimize and predict by considering every alternative.

Organization Men (and women) are drawn to conflict suppression through an often participatory program of inductive analysis. Individualists are attracted to conflict resolution through an often compartmentalized program of deductive verification. Fused with the whole, Organization Men follow the other-directed road to products. Concerned with the parts, Individualists take the same road to endless process.

In the I Ching, the Organization Man is the eldest son in the hexagram "The Arousing (Shock, Thunder)." He has "learned within his heart what fear and trembling mean." But rather than attaining a "profound inner seriousness," he may be robbed "of reflection and clarity of vision...helplessly tossed hither and thither." If his resistance and ability to yield are absent, his movement may be seriously crippled.

The Individualist is the youngest son in the hexagram "Keeping Still (Mountain)." He "turns upon the problem of achieving a quiet heart." Yet rather than reaching "peace of mind," his constant thinking may make "the heart sore," causing him to drift irresolutely. He may try to "induce calmness by means of artificial rigidity," producing "unwholesome results. Tied to ego, he isn't "free from all the dangers of doubt and unrest."

Nevertheless, these two very different sons have some common concerns and attributes: reliance on routines, concern with adjustment, and belief in the world of objective facts are among the tendencies that unite these two rational types. Reason and judging functions are supreme, noted Jung, which subordinates their intuitive lives to rational judgment alone. The accidental and irrational are excluded, and untidiness is forced into a definite pattern.

But there are dangers. Such people are sucked into objects and lose themselves. They are forced into involuntary self-restraint. At the extreme lies hysteria, an exaggerated rapport with those in the immediate environment and an adaptation to surrounding conditions that may become mere imitation. The basic feature of the hysteric is a tendency to make him or herself interesting, to make an impression. Related to this is suggestibility, vulnerability to the influence of another.

These types and their relationships can be placed in visual perspective. Imagine a vertical line, for example, symbolizing the active element often identified as male. At the bottom of the line is chaos. At the opposite pole lies the extreme of the material world, order, which is idealized in the spiritual world. Next, imagine a second line, dividing the first at its center: this horizontal line symbolizes the passive element, often characterized as female. It moves from the intuitive realm of spirit to the rational world of matter. Viewed as a whole, the two lines create four quadrants.

By imposing an inverted pyramid on this cross, we create a symbol indicating the thesis of rationalism and antithesis of intuition. Moving along the horizontal axis to the right, we venture from the mid-point between order and chaos, intuition and rationality, into the world of the real. At the extreme, in this visual representation, are the tool users and time keepers who accept the world of objects as they see it.

The line pointing diagonally southeast, in the direction of chaos and rationality, leads us to the libertarian rationalist, the Individualist bound solidly to matter in total rejection of spirit, whose extreme example is the technician. To the southwest, toward chaos and intuition, is the intuitional libertarian, the radical who may ultimately embrace anarchy and become an outsider. And to the northeast, the direction of order and rationality, we find the collective rationalist, the Organization Man. He may sometimes seek spirit within matter, but often he becomes the extreme known as the rhinoceros.

One quadrant remains – the region of pure spirit. I'll leave for later a full examination of this tendency toward intuitive order. But this direction leads to devotion, a form of collective intuition. The devoted being, an intuitive or spiritual guide, also has an important role to play in the world of leadership, one largely unexplored by management theorists. This type is an arrogant dragon who has begun to repent. Potentially, he is a spiritual adept, or an organizational shaman. At the extreme, however, the devoted being may become a blind disciple.

The dialectic of rationality and intuition which began with Copernicus and was concretized by Descartes, Hobbes, the rationalists and skeptics of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the neo-Hegelians, and followers of Marx has led to the dominance of rationality in the conditional world of technology, bureaucracy, and behaviorism. The inverted pyramid directs us to the Organization Man, the collective rationalist who accepts a world of increasing order and predictability.

At the opening of the 21st century, the rhinoceros herd encompasses most of society. The values of collective rationality have been diffused to the masses who, to a significant extent, embrace the ethic of self-control and mechanical system. We've moved deep into the age of the bureaucratic institution, dominated by technological and industrial culture.

Among the implicit beliefs of collective rationality illustrated thus far are:

* The appropriate attitude toward the past is rejection, hostility or casual amusement.
* Humanity is inherently estranged from nature.
* Natural striving is upward and outward, exemplified by improvement and increases of production.
* Our orientation must be toward mastery, control and order.
* Our knowledge can be expanded indefinitely.
* The cosmos is a mechanical system.
* The road to improvement is accelerated movement.

Systems are viewed with a mixture of reverence and fear. Anxious Organization Men are relieved when they can be reassured that "the system still works." Even the Watergate crisis of the 70s and the Iran-Contra affair of the 80s provided such consolation for most rational leaders and their conditioned flocks.

But in order to completely understand how the dragon has been transformed into a rhinoceros, we need to look more deeply into the system in which he operates.

Consider it a whale of frightful size. A whale was said to have swallowed Jonah, its belly so large that people mistook it for hell. The whale lifts its back out of the open sea, then anchors itself in one place. Resting on its back, a level lawn is created, and bushes begin to grow. According to legend, sailing ships often mistook whales for islands and landed on them. Crews then built fires, and their heat awoke the beast. Suddenly, the huge beast plunged into the sea, pulling the ship and crew down with it.

This is a dire vision of the system at work. But there are more practical reasons to fear the whale, this organizational machine made of human beings.

Next: The Price of Order

To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Monday, December 14, 2009

Life, Death and Lost Generations

Part 20 of Prisoners of the Real

In the 1920s, the artistic movement called dadaism emerged as the extreme of individualism, combining an open rejection of the audience with the belief that real communication was impossible. The godfather of surrealism, Andre Breton, claimed that in the future the two fundamental states of mind – dream and reality – would be merged into a super-reality.

For the outsiders of the "Great Society" 40 years later, drugs offered another glimpse of this fusion, while novels and films celebrated it.

Breton argued that by abolishing reason and logic, and along with them the sexual taboos of bourgeois society, human beings could liberate themselves from the problems of the material world. They could transcend the duties and mores of the "real." Creation of a new system of values would eventually return them to a state of true innocence. Both the "lost" and "now generations" embraced this belief and found, for a time, that through a defiance of rationality they could glimpse the outsider's Truth.

The religion of art provided the "lost generation" with a sense of mission. Forbidden themes were opened for discussion, and the literature of the period soared. At the same time, however, the fates of many artists and their followers turned bleak. The new gods of liquor, sex, violence, and art led them into a decline, since they were trying to draw upon resources which, in many instances, they didn't possess. Beginning with the protest of the Sacco-Vanzetti trial and escalating into a series of suicides, the elastic band of separation from the "serious world" was stretched to the snapping point.

At the end of the 60s a similar crash occurred. Violence, repression and death blanketed the US: the killing of students at Kent and Jackson State, the murder of Black Panthers, bombings by the Weather Underground, and the suicides of cultural icons such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

How limited the options looked: individual consciousness leading to a destructive social revolution, or conditioned rationalism that produced a society of robots. Deadly times had led to extreme, dichotomous responses. Of course, the same division can exist within the individual. Another play by John Osborne revealed both poles within the character of Martin Luther. Stubborn and iconoclastic, resentful of authority and blind to compromise, Osborne's Luther is a divided man who believes in individual conscience and yet can't dispel his own guilt. He hates himself and can love only others.

After posting the 95 Theses, Luther speaks against indulgences. Both the self-lacerating monk and the revolutionary are evident as he baits his congregation. "Your emptiness will be frothing over," he says, "at the sight of a strand of Jesus' beard, at one of the nails driven into his hands, and at the remains of the loaf at the Last Supper. Shells for shells, empty things for empty men."

Luther has had a revelation: "The just shall live by faith... Reason is the devil's whore, born of one stinking goat called Aristotle, which believes that good works make a good man. But the truth is that the just shall live by faith alone." But this revelation, as powerful as it is, can't save him once the political implications of his words are seized by discontented masses. In the face of an armed revolt by the peasants of Swabia, who demand the abolition of serfdom and the preaching of the pure gospel, Luther sides with the rulers and calls for extermination of the protestors. Reform, he has decided, must occur within the system.

The uprising is violently squelched. Afterward a battle-tired knight tells Luther, "You could even have brought freedom and order in at one and the same time." But instead he smothered the spirit and brought on Protestant "angst," which proceeded to haunt us for centuries. Luther became a rational manager, and his choice brought death.

In 1522, Martin Luther decided not to leave the system, and instead acted on its behalf. His choice was another victory for the Robot, the automatic pilot that substitutes routine responses for self-consciousness. The Robot can of course also work in conjunction with consciousness; in fact, such collaboration can enhance our creative activities. But more often it replaces the "will to meaning" with unexamined responses. When this happens, beliefs are often assumed rather than affirmed.

Set loose, the Robot is fully capable of suppressing meaning and supporting a false sense of ethical neutrality that finds its ultimate expression in technicians of death. Pentagon planners, for instance, could coolly plan the bombardment of Vietnam and Iraq by defining the problems as "technical" and ignoring the assumptions of these conflicts. They became observers, standing outside their own designs.

Speaking of Vietnam, Noam Chomsky noted that for the planners all dilemmas were practical, as ethically neutral as the laws of physics:

"If the children in a burn ward in the Quang Ngai hospital disagree, well, they probably don't understand the laws of physics either. By defining problems as technical, one appears hardheaded and realistic, any moral considerations are displaced, and the public is effectively excluded, since clearly technical problems are to be left to experts."

Ethics and history are left behind. The origins of ideas, whether correct or mistaken, are someone else's department. The terms of the technical problem are assumed, so that "counter-insurgency theorists" and experts in "low intensity war" can remain free to address difficulties without bothering to understand them. In a value-free institution, life and death cease to have intrinsic meaning. Negative power becomes an efficient and satisfactory choice, and production can be measured by the number of deaths.

At least the outsider seeks life, hoping to expand the pleasure principle in order to build a new culture. The technician or mechanic, on the other hand, may seek no more than death. As Rollo May has described it, Eros stands across from Thanatos, love in polarity with hate. Regardless of its guise, Joseph Campbell once noted, Eros is always the progenitor, the original creator from which life comes. And Freud, who believed that the elimination of sexual tension through full satisfaction of the libido was self-defeating, since the aim of all life is death, saw Eros as the only possible rescuer. Yet Eros is normally denied in a rational society. Even physical passion is replaced by sexual technique.

In popular fiction, the professional killer often symbolizes the technician as figure of death, a disinterested mercenary working for unknown or irrelevant causes. For such technicians it's best not to know the ends toward which they work, focusing only on their part and giving no thought to the whole. Work goes best when attention is narrowly focused. If understanding expands, on the other hand, the death figure often destroys itself.

Clearly, life in the "serious world" can be just as dangerous as moving outside it. Neither assimilation nor isolation will lead an "arrogant dragon" to personal peace.

Next: Deconstructing Archetypes

To read other chapters, go to
Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Outsider’s Choice

Part 19 of Prisoners of the Real

According to the theory of organizational equilibrium, most employees have two basic decisions to make on the job: to participate and to produce. Of course, they can also opt to leave – that is, decide not to participate – or decline to produce at the expected rate. But rational management turns either choice into a potentially existential crisis. Too often people must either conform to the so-called "serious world" or reject it. It's a choice between bad faith and compulsory engagement.

Consciousness is the essence of freedom. But refusal to reflect on motives, or to lie about them, is consciousness in bad faith, uncritical acceptance of the "serious world." Terrified by the thought of justifying their lives without the clear boundaries established by "objective" reality, many people choose to join the "rhinoceros herd", accepting a standard that appears to guarantee certain absolute rights and wrongs. However, a few do choose to reject it. They opt to leave or refuse to produce. We tend to call such people "outsiders."

In John Osborne's classic drama, Look Back in Anger, the central character is an outsider named Jimmy Porter, a British university drop-out living in an attic apartment. Porter is Hamlet as an "angry young man," mocking the phoniness of his world. He recognizes his antagonist, the rational man who mouths platitudes and yet, despite the facade, knows that "he and his pals have been plundering and fooling everybody for generations." For Porter the choice is clear, but the price of being an outsider is loneliness and anger. "I learned at an early age what it was to be angry," he shouts, "angry and helpless. And I can never forget it."

Before the curtain falls, he turns to his long-suffering wife and poses his existential question:

"Was I really wrong to believe that there's a – a kind of – burning virility of mind and spirit that looks for something as powerful as itself? The heaviest, strongest creatures in this world seem to be the loneliest. Like the old bear, following his own breath in the dark forest. There's no warm pack, no herd to comfort him. That voice that cries out doesn't have to be a weakling's, does it?"

Here is the outsider's problem, the same burden of choice explored by Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky. In The Outsider, Colin Wilson's groundbreaking study of modern alienation, he made the dilemma crystal clear. The outsider, Wilson explained, is someone "who cannot live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois, accepting what he sees and touches as reality. 'He sees too deep and too much,' and what he sees in essentially chaos."

For the outsider, the world isn't rational and orderly. He has awakened in himself a chaos which he is forced to face. Wilson also described the outsider's case against society:

"All men and women have these dangerous, unnamable impulses, yet they keep up a pretense, to themselves, to others; their respectability, their philosophy, their religion, are all attempts to gloss over, to make look civilized and rational something that is savage, unorganized, irrational. He is an Outsider because he stands for Truth."

Like his rational opposite, the outsider accepts the idea that human beings are brutes. But rather than suppressing instinct, he chooses to let it loose.

Outsiders are part of every generation, the few members of society who reject the organization, who leave on a search for some "separate peace." For as long as there have been organized societies, there also have been those who make this choice. In the US, some of our most famous outsiders emerged as part of the "lost generation" of the 1920s.

After World War I, the nation entered a period of post-war disillusionment. The American Dream had been shattered and the foundations of the country's optimism finally cracked. Another era of disillusionment and pessimism commenced at the end of the 1960s, when assassination destroyed hope and moral corruption bruised already strained ideals. The dream of a "Great Society" became a nightmare, and many Americans turned from altruism to cynicism.

The disillusionment of the 1920s soon gave way to another phase of "lostness." An expatriate clique made a pilgrimage to Montparnasse, a sub-culture of playboys, artists, intellectuals and might-have-beens. This avant garde group set out to revolutionize morals, calling for the elimination of obsolete values and ultimately reaping a harvest of emotional emptiness.

The term "lost generation" was actually a misnomer, a book-jacket acclamation by Gertrude Stein that was used out of context. Similarly, the label for the drop outs of the 60s, the "now generation," was a simplistic attempt by the media and critics of the sub-culture to categorize a group they couldn't understand. Like the earlier expatriates, the "now generation" claimed the mantle of freedom and alienation. Following the lead of Ernest Hemingway's alter-ego, Nick Adams, they were certainly "not patriots." So said Abbie Hoffman, Eldridge Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, and other leaders of The Movement. Their "underground" revolt was a radical break with the "straight" world, which had proven itself neither joyous, principled, nor cultured enough to deserve their loyalty or respect.

In the 20s many artists and ascetics practiced a self-imposed emotional and physical isolation. Seeking to satisfy passions aroused by the face of death, they searched for life despite the regimentation of society, hoping to discover a new faith to replace the one that had failed them. Not only artists and mystics made this quest in the 60s; millions of middle-class men and women ventured into a world of hidden meanings and the occult. As in the 20s, they awoke from the shock of war and found themselves disoriented, adrift in the world of surrealism, dadaism, drugs, and sex.

Next: Life, Death and Lost Generations

To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

The Afterlife & the Roots of Theosophy

Most religions say that the soul goes somewhere after death. But solid evidence is tough to find, and despite some credible research, the results have been inconclusive so far.

My own research began many years ago in Vermont, as I looked for answers to the mystery surrounding a family of 19th Century mediums and the people who were attracted to their “ghost shop.” In the end, I wrote Spirits of Desire, a novel based on events surrounding the initial meeting of Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott, founders of the Theosophy movement. This four-part essay discusses various theories about ghosts and the afterlife, and offers several excerpts from the book.

Out of This World

Attack of the “Electric Eel”

Helena Blavatsky’s Astral Solution

HPB & The Chittenden Mysteries

To purchase a copy of the book or find out more, post a comment to this website.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Ultimate Reality of Karl Marx

Part 17 of Prisoners of the Real

Born as Europe moved from a time of crowded change into a period of lethargy, descended from Rabbis, and abandoning his Protestant upbringing early in life, Karl Marx was a student during a time of intense intellectual development in Germany. The neo-Hegelian group he joined, led by Ludwig Feuerback, had rejected Hegel's notion of providence behind the cosmic process. Although Marx managed to avoid rational skepticism, he concluded, under Feuerback's influence, that religion, like all products of the mind, was derived from material conditions, and that these conditions determined the life of the community. In The German Ideology, he wrote:

"The phantoms formed in the human brain are also necessarily sublimates of their material life-processes, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology, and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development….Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life."

After a year of frustrating work as a journalist in Cologne, which ended in his censorship by the Prussian government, Marx moved to Paris – to socialism, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Engels. But under Prussian prodding, Paris also became unfriendly after two years. Marx next moved to Brussels, and it was there that the "communist league" was born in 1847. The vision described in The Communist Manifesto was a classless society in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange were owned by the community, and from which the State had disappeared:

"If the proletariat during its contact with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.

"In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

But the highway to the abolition of capitalism, said Marx and Engels, has an extended detour known as the dictatorship of the proletariat, sometimes described as state socialism or, when the means of production are administered for the community by the state, state capitalism. Critics of Marxism have long argued that the State's ultimate disappearance and the birth of the communal association were never more than mythology; the reality of communism, they say, is illustrated best by Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev.

Marx, of course, didn't have the benefit of hindsight. And although he felt strongly that the philosopher should be an agent of change, he was less concerned about the potential dangers of a communist State than the process of dialectical materialism. Retaining Hegelian concepts, he rejected Idealist philosophy and claimed that his dialectical method was not only different than Hegel's but its direct opposite:

"To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e. the process of thinking, which under the name of 'the Idea,' he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of 'the Idea.' With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought."

Thus, Marx stripped dialectic of its remaining mystical form, making the material world the ultimate reality. For Hegel, the Absolute contained both mind and nature. Marx applied the idea solely to the material world,. Mind was merely a by-product. In his essentially scientific philosophy, the material world was the only relevant matter.

Nevertheless, Marx did oppose the older materialists who suggested that sensations from the external world provide immediate knowledge. Perception of the environment, he argued, was only part of the process of acting upon it. Knowledge was bound up with action; together they created Praxis. Only through practice could the truth of theory be ascertained:

"The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.... Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory into mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice."

Marx assumed that sensations give us accurate copies of external reality, "mirror reflections of things." Once again skeptical observation and an orientation toward mastery of nature are prescribed as appropriate corollaries to the search for knowledge, which now took on the character of a revolutionary doctrine.

Marxism had several elements: dialectical philosophy, with its laws of transformation, unity of opposites and negation of the negation; the system of political economy, including the labor theory of value; and the theory of the State and revolution. The cornerstone of Marx' philosophical system was his theory of value: that labor alone creates it. Competition, he wrote, forces capitalists to accumulate private property, and to use technology to produce more goods. But an increase in the proportion of constant to variable capital reduces profits, and the number of capitalists decreases under competition as "one capitalist always kills many."

Weaker capitalists are progressively driven into the ranks of the wage-earners; the "misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation" of workers at capitalist hands escalates as more are driven into the industrial reserve army, where they must work for lower wages: "The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capital packaging. This packaging is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated."

According to Marx, the combination of workers in a "cooperative form of labor-process" for their own protection will eventually create a force to destroy the capitalist system, strained to the limit largely through the replacement of humans by machines. Nevertheless, he favored increases in production tied to technological improvements, what he called "conscious technical application of science," and had no sympathy for inefficiency. Changes in the mode of production were for him the central determinants of social change, a force he assumed to be beyond human control. The value of humanity was therefore the net effect of its labor upon the economic system, an unfortunate capitulation to practice and betrayal of ongoing praxis. Since cultural change relied only on outer factors, a denigration of subjective life was clearly implied. The individual was the object and victim of external forces and institutions that could only be affected by "objective" experience and labor.

Materialism and dialectics compelled Marxists to attack idealist philosophy, demeaning its non-scientific basis, its so-called roots in ignorance, and its relation to religion, which he defined as mere quackery. Knowledge of the world, he was certain, isn’t conditioned by the senses, but rather is a jigsaw puzzle with a core of absolute truth that becomes more visible as knowledge increases. A crucial assumption of classic Marxism and its later variations was ultimate control by external "productive forces," leading to productive relations between human beings within an efficient and finally cooperative society.

In a classless society, mechanisms that have increased misery will eventually serve humanity. In relying on the destruction of past institutions to create a virtuous world, Marx also embraced the principle of "improvement through movement."

In the final years of the 19th century, unexamined faith in the promise of technology became a common theme. Scientific discovery was transforming the natural world into a machine-based environment. Scientific management basically restated renaissance rationalism, an old idea re-tailored for the new managers of the western world. Humanity was becoming the servant of forces it had unleashed.

Ironically, Karl Marx added his voice to this unfolding thesis. He assured the world that a technical cure could be applied to the spreading disease of mechanism.

Next: Conditional Ascension & Factual Fetishism

To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hegel’s Dialectical Progress

Part 16 of
Prisoners of t
he Real

Despite the tendency of some 19th Century thinkers to read their own anti-Enlightenment views into the works of Leibnitz, Kant, Hegel and Neitzsche, each of these philosophers to some extent sympathized with the basic intentions of the Age of Reason. Hegel, for example, wrote vitriolic attacks on Christianity as a youth, at least in part because it opposed Enlightenment ideals. His stated goal was to intellectualize romanticism and spiritualize enlightenment.

In his second work, The Life of Jesus, he used Christ to propagate Kant's ethics. "Pure reason," he wrote, "incapable of any limitation, is the deity itself." Hegel's Jesus rejected faith and accepted no authority but reason. In later years, Hegel criticized what he viewed as the romantic cult of intuition, and attacked Fries' philosophy of feeling, which suggested that all reality has an inner spiritual side as well as an outer material aspect.

Although he eventually did turn against the negation inherent in the Enlightenment view of religion, Hegel remained faithful to reason, accepting the "truth" according to Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant. At the core of his own doctrine was Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. All knowledge begins with experience, argued Kant, but it doesn't come from experience. The capacity to have experiences of, let's say, a spatial and temporal character is an a priori possession; the occasions for use of such capacities are a posteriori factors. And the interplay of the two produces knowledge. Central to all activity, including perception, is structure. Kant provided four possible structures for thought – the categories of quantity, quality, relation, and modality, the threads by which the self binds all experience together. Each of the structures, in turn, have three manifestations. Quantity, for example, is manifested as


Hegel adopted many of Kant's ideas, including his abhorrence of the irrational. The cosmic process, he proposed, is directed by a rational principle personified by World-Spirit, or Geist. Whatever is rational is real, he argued, and whatever is real is rational. Geist is universal reason moving through eternity; not simply soul but a totality of all experience, the Absolute or Idea:

"If we propose to think of the mind (Geist), we must not be so shy of its special phenomena....It is wrong, therefore, to take the mind for a processless 'ens', as did the old metaphysic which divided the processless inward life of the mind from its outward life."

Rather than appealing to mystical insight, Hegel relied on strictly rational procedures, and believed that the concept of mind could be defended only by carefully thinking about mind. This scientific approach led him to the transcendental ego, an underlying rational principle of consciousness, the will behind all practical reason and action. The experienced fact of Geist, presented and reconstructed through categories borrowed from both Aristotle and Kant, was a dynamic system of forms – quantity, quality, substance, causality, essence, existence, and so on, all revealed as the Absolute progressively unfolds itself. Hegel's Encyclopedia was a digest of thought, an ordered sequence of categorical items that provided a rational explanation of Geist.

To present his categories, he outlined the procedure he called dialectic, and said that it governed both thoughts and events in the temporal realm. Taken from the Greek word for discussion or debate, it was essentially the theory of the union of opposites. For Plato, dialectic was the art of discussion that arrives at truth by exposing contradictions and overcoming them. For Hegel, however, it was at the core of everything, the sole vehicle for progress. Thesis affirms a proposition, which antithesis denies or negates; synthesis enfolds the truth of both and moves humanity closer to reality. But synthesis, argued Hegel, is also limited, and therefore the triangular process is continually repeated. Conceptualized in this way, dialectic is a process of conflict and reconciliation in thought and time.

Hegel's philosophy was a restatement of older formulae such as matter-form-consciousness and body-soul-spirit; however, his magic triangle – being-nothing-becoming, which adopted the Pythagorean symbol of certainty and power, assumed continuous change. The triangle, sitting on its base, was also the Egyptian emblem of the Godhead, and generally signifies creative intellect, the yearning for higher things, the female element, movement from the material to the spiritual, and the wisdom inherent in nature. Turned upside down, on the other hand, the triangle becomes a symbol of the search for truth within nature, and takes on a male character. Hegel's dialectic therefore linked Greek thought, mathematics, and a variety of religious myths.

Even the poet W.B. Yeats, who hadn't read Hegel before developing the conceptual system he presented in A Vision, viewed the world as a conflict of "spectre and emanation," illustrated by "primary" and "antithetical" cones that matched Hegel's triangular reversals. "By the antithetical cone," he wrote, "we express more and more...our inner world of desire and imagination, whereas by the primary...we express more and more...that objectivity of the mind which is external to the mind...not coloured by opinions." (See the triangular reversals posited by Hegel and Yeats in the graphic at the top of this essay.)

Hegel's belief in change led him to challenge the conflict of affirmation and denial made by formal logic. The truth and purpose of one phase of development, he argued, will be realized in a later stage. Thought must therefore consider things in connection with their histories and relations to other competing thoughts. Knowledge seeks the whole – totality or truth, he said, but never reaches it.

Using his dialectical process, the philosopher examined Geist as it realized its end through civilizations and great personalities. The Idea moves through time, he believed, with neither assertion nor opposition achieving a complete victory at any point. Yet he believed that it reaches its highest self-realization in art, religion, and philosophy. Through art the infinite becomes visible, in religious symbols it becomes more than art, and in philosophy is it mastered by thought. For Hegel philosophy was the goal of all development – mastery of the infinite through rational explanation.

But his reliance on dialectic was self-defeating, since change was considered an attribute only of Geist. Nature, on the other hand, was seen as a self-repeating cycle that induced feelings of ennui. The unity of nature was gone, and it struggled to regain self-identity in humanity, defined as its goal. Thus, human beings, including Hegel, were trapped by reason into a dialectical routine, straight-jacketed by rationality into a linear exposition that eventually became monotonous.

According to Hegel, the endless struggle for self-identity has three stages – mechanics, physics, and organic life. Geist also has three – the subjective, objective, and absolute. But only the absolute, he concluded, has complete reality, or reason; the whole, and nothing else, is completely real. The only solution is for all human beings to join together and form the "divine Idea" as it exists of earth – that is, to create the State. The State, he argued, is the larger and fuller expression of the individual, the only way for people to achieve self-realization. Humanity is therefore urged to accept the laws and customs of the group, and to subject individual conscience to universal reason:

"The State is Mind, per se. This is due to the fact that it is the embodiment of the substantial Will, which is nothing else then the individual self-consciousness conceived in its abstract form and raised to the universal plane. This substantial and massive unity is an absolute and fixed end in itself. In it freedom attains to the maximum of its rights: but at the same time the State, being an end in itself, is provided with the maximum of rights over against the individual citizens, whose highest duty it is to be members of the State."

Within a century, Hegel's dialectic served as a philosophical springboard for both proletarian radicalism and conservative nationalism. Ignoring his hints at transcendentalism, both revolutionaries and patriots turned his system into an oracle of submission to absolute order, a way to bind the complexity that was already producing ennui. In the 20th century, system theorists applied his notion of the "union of opposites" to all entities, rarely questioning the identification of the "real" and rational as Geist.

Sadly, synthesis was beyond Hegel's personal limits. In his later years he moved from the condemnation of Christianity to the celebration of its dogmas as philosophical truth. Illustrating his dialectic in motion, his personal pendulum swung from one extreme to another. He was trapped in an ennui expressed not in the self-repeating dialectic of nature (Evolutionists have since documented that novelty and purposive adaptation occur within all living systems), but in the era spanned by his 61 years of life. The energy of the Enlightenment had gradually eroded into routines, and a marsh gas of boredom and vacuity settled at the nerve endings of social life.

Born two years before the publication of Diderot's Encyclopedie, before the French Revolution and the Napoleonic extravaganza, Hegel lived through a deeply enervating period of change. In the first decades of the 19th century time itself accelerated and human experience crowded in, followed by a long period of statis dominated by repression and the gradual expansion of civilized order.

The line of reasoning that had brought the philosopher to propose the fuller existence of Geist in organization – that is, the coordination of the individual -- was this: to be free is to be self-consciously self-determined, not only in one's actions but in choices. The self, however, is not one's physical nature – feelings, impulses and desires – but mind conceived as rational thought. And thought is governed by laws of reason, a system determined by the nature of reason. Thus, the only free person is one who chooses in accordance with reason. Yet rationality doesn't guarantee self-government, since many individual actions are determined subjectively. The objective basis that is needed to guide actions can be found only in laws and institutions, and only when they are properly organized as embodiments of the laws of reason.

Within a decade of his death in 1831, Hegel's approach was given a practical test in Prussian politics. While conservative Hegelians argued over interpretations, leftists enriched the revolutionary potential inherent in his identification of the rational with the actual. Hegel, of course, had confined himself to considering the past, which he believed to be the philosopher's proper task. "Philosophy comes too late to teach the world what it should be," he wrote. "The owl of Minerva begins its flight when the shades of twilight have already fallen." But Karl Marx disagreed. The function of philosophy, he said, wasn't merely to define and analyze the world but also to change it. For this work, dialectic proved to be a highly flexible instrument.

Next: The Ultimate Reality of Karl Marx

To read other chapters, go to Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey