Ludwig Büchner is the younger brother of the playwright Georg Büchner. He was a lecturer in medicine at the University of Tübingen, but the outspoken materialism of his masterpiece, Kraft und Stoff( Force and Matter), caused such an outcry that he has been forced to resign and retire to his hometown of Darmstadt where he practices medicine while continuing to expound his materialistic and atheistic views in numerous publications.
3:16: What made you become a philosopher?
Ludwig Büchner: My great interest in our general conception of the Universe and of life from the point of view of realism, an importance which I feel is still far from being sufficiently acknowledged. The mystery of existence dwells in the figure of the circle. Without beginning without end and without cause eternity can only revert into itself and begins and ceases at every point of the immeasurable universe. But the human intellect, accustomed to see everything that exists pass before it in space and time and in accordance with the laws of cause and effect, shrinks the more from this simple solution of the great world mystery the less it has freed itself from these barriers by meditation and knowledge.
My philosophical position is this Richard: Existence is everywhere and in every condition or moment of its happening is its own object! Man is here not to prepare himself, as the theologians say, for a better world, or to inhabit and people the earth as the teleologists will have it, or as the philosophers suppose to bring about a reconciliation between being and thinking, between God and the world, but simply to be here! One might add Richard - and to be happy or comfortable here if this purpose did not for the most part disappear under the mass of miseries and horrors which the struggle for existence and for the good things of the earth brings with it .
3:16: So you call yourself a philosophical realist. Do you mean by that that you base your philosophical ideas on the findings of science?
LB: I do Richard. Since the revival of learning in the 15th century there has been an abundance of strong food for the human intellect, the education of which was commenced by the Greek philosophers but then suffered the interruption of a long intellectual stagnation or sleep of fourteen centuries. I will not stop to enquire by what influence this stagnation was brought about although this is clear enough to the eyes of those who are acquainted with true history and not merely with that substitute for it which has been concocted by theologians and philosophers for their own purposes.
3:16: So you think some philosophers haven’t responded to the new situation and the solution to the mystery of existence don’t you? They don’t think it hasn’t been solved.
LB: The speculative philosophers or metaphysicians indeed are just as averse to such a simple solution as the great mass of the ignorant or of those who are captive in theological bonds. By it their whole striving after the discovery of supernatural causes of the world and the order existing in it must once be wrecked and their comfortable mode of philosophizing would immediately sink to the level of a useless clash of words in the eyes of every clear thinking person.
3:16: So what your philosophical realism dislikes is the transcendental turn by which some philosophers instead of looking for evidence give up and declare it off limits?
LB: Yes Richard. It’s for that reason, for example, that it came about that the fundamental problem of the origin and production or genealogy of the human race was almost unanimously declared not merely by the philosophers of former days but also in unison with them by general opinion to be transcendental - that is to say - beyond the reach of human powers of conception and comprehension - at all events so far as these rested upon observation and experience.
3:16: But why don’t you think it’s worth while trying to find out the essence of things rather than just accepting the limiting scope of science?
LB: The true essence of things? Bah! Look Richard, the limited nature of our physical knowledge and the change or addition which the things to be known undergo or receive within our physical means of knowledge or senses form the last citadel within which philosophical spiritualism has retreated after it has been victoriously driven from the field at all other points by philosophical materialism or realism. Sulking solitary upon deserted rocks it hopes at some more favorable time to be able from this point again to reconquer the lost territory. But there is this in opposition to it that it is equally or perhaps even less able than its opponent to give any account of what the so called thing is in itself or of what the thing is without its phenomena.
Things - or more properly speaking the material movements of the external world within our organs of sense - may indeed only then receive the properties which we ascribe to them. Tones, colours, odours nay even sensations of heat light taste and so on may only be additions of our subjective I to the objective external world and the latter, when we deprive it of these additions, may appear to be only an accumulation or sum of innumerable atoms or particles of matter vibrating against and among each other in the most multifarious forms and relations. But nevertheless these movements or in general things are not on this account less real or actual and in the form of contemplative ideas constitute the foundation of all human knowledge.
3:16: So you follow Locke on this?
LB: I do Richard. Locke, the celebrated founder of sensualism, knew this very well for he ascribed a great part of the properties of bodies to our sensitivity and distinguished between what he called primary and secondary properties of things, referring to the former as extension, impermeability, form, motion or rest and number, and to the latter colour, tone, taste, odour, hardness, softness, roughness and so on. The materialistic philosophers of antiquity also, such as Epicurus, distinguished between the sensorial qualities of things or the sensation of the organized animal body and the things themselves but added that beyond the things of the phenomenal world nothing existed and there was nothing to seek.
3:16: Some Materialists would disagree with you on this though wouldn’t they? For instance Mr Lange defends the Kantian 'thing in itself' doesn’t he?
LB: Richard, it is incomprehensible how so acute a thinker as FA Lange could allow himself in his History of Materialism to be led by this and the well known distinction by Kant of the 'thing in itself' from the phenomenon to go directly against materialism and even in accord with Kant to support the maxim that our ideas do not accommodate themselves to the objects but the objects to ideas. The simple consequence of this conception would be absurd assumption that all that we recognise is only an illusion of the senses - an assumption which must make an end not of all philosophy but of all knowledge.
Even the imperfection and the sufficiently demonstrated limitation of our sensorial perception which does not even possess a direct organ of perception for so many motions which occur in nature, and in respect is perhaps exceeded by many animals, will not suffice to furnish a scientific foundation for the doctrine of Kant which is derived from pure speculation. Kant's 'thing in itself' is an ideal entity or a logical and empirical nonentity of the connection of which with our conception proceeding from sensorial recognition no conception can possibly be formed. A 'thing in itself' is inconceivable for the very reason that all things exist only for each other and without reciprocal relations have no significance. But even if there were a 'thing in itself' it would be absolutely inconceivable or unrecognisable and could claim no value either for our action or for our thought.
3:16: The scientific revolution then is key for you?
LB: Yes. This revival of science being once set on foot it was inevitable that a more frequent bursting of the old integuments would take place and this process of intellectual moulting must be frequently repeated. And so it was in the 16th century by the overthrow of the old astronomical system and the influence of the Reformation.
3:16: And the French Revolution is also immensely important to you isn’t it because it builds out of the scientific revolution?
LB: Yes. So we get at the end of the 19th century the period of intellectual Enlightement and the influence of the great French Revolution .
3:16: Some of the great questions of philosophy has been about who we are, where we came from and where we are going – and some have thought these too vague to answer but you think science has given us the data to answer them – Darwin is the key figure for you isn’t he, and his theory of evolution?
LB: Yes. Professor Huxley is undoubtedly in the right in describing this question of Man's place in nature and his relations to the universe as the question of questions for mankind, as a problem which lies at the root of all others and interests us more profoundly than any other. Whence our race has come? he says. What are the limits of our power over nature and of nature's power over us? To what goal we are tending? These are the problems which present themselves anew and with undiminished interest to every man born into the world. More simply expressed, these are the old questions which have in all times occupied the human mind and which, as you suggest Richard, run as follows: Whence do we come? What are we and whither are we going? And as you say, problems which formerly seemed to be veiled in the deepest obscurity of impenetrable secrecy have now received some elucidation or illumination from the science of our own day.
3:16: You say all that has to stop now we have evidence and a theory to understand it?
LB: Who could have suspected even a few years ago that within so short a period the progress of knowledge and of scientific induction would throw a light so clear and certain upon this mystery of mysteries upon the earliest past history and the first commencement of our race upon the earth. We may say without exaggeration that this step stands in the first line of all the advances made by the human mind that the discovery of the natural origin of man and the demonstration of his true position in the universe deserves to be ranged side by side with the greatest scientific discoveries of all times if indeed it should not be raised above them.
3:16: You agree with Schaaffhausen and Häckel that evolution is a game changer?
LB: Oh Yes. Professor Schaaffhausen says that to have ascertained the real origin of man is a discovery so fertile in its consequences for all human conceptions that futurity will perhaps regard this result of investigation as the greatest of which the attainment was allotted to the human mind. And Professor E Häckel rightly says that the recognition of the natural and especially the animal origin of man must sooner or later bring about a complete revolution in our entire conception of the relations of mankind and the world.
3:16: Why do our animal origins matter so much to philosophy?
LB: There is perhaps only a single scientific discovery which in point of importance and far reaching consequences is to be placed on the same level with this and that is the discovery that the earth moves and that the sun is stationary or the establishment of the so called Copernican system of the universe. Of all those burstings forth or moultings of the human mind already spoken of and of which we may count so many of greater or less importance in the history of the development of human civilization, this great astronomical discovery is undoubtedly one of the most important and conspicuous. As enlarging the intellectual horizon of the men of that time there is nothing to compare with it - except perhaps the discovery of America.
3:16: The theory of evolution is up there with Copernicus then? Is this because these theories remove humans from the centre of the world – they de-anthroplogise our investigations?
LB: Yes, they both remove anthropocentric errors. The geocentric error consisted in regarding the earth as the central point and chief object in the whole universe, the other parts of which were considered only to serve the purposes of this central point and its inhabitants. The anthropocentric error - which even still governs the great majority of mankind - regards man as the centre and sole object of the whole organic creation as the image of God or the ruler and centre of the terrestrial world and takes the whole mechanism to exist solely for his use and with reference to his special needs .The former of these errors as is well known was overturned and swept away by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton. The second by Lamarck, Goethe, Lyell, Darwin and their adherents and followers.
3:16: And philosophy until these guys came along were guilty of this anthroprocentric error?
LB: Sadly yes Richard. In the opinions of former philosophers man was an exceptional instance in the grand scheme of creation. He formed an isolated phenomenon in the great plan of nature to make free with, whom after the ordinary fashion of inductive inquiry was little other than an act of open and scandalous impiety.
3:16: I guess religions benefited from this error as well?
LB: My dear boy, we know only too well how far this contempt for nature in contradistinction to the world of the spirit was carried by whose conceptions of the universe were drawn from religious and especially from Christian sources.
3:16: And your realism is about getting away from all this?
LB: Yes. This senseless rage against our own flesh must soon come to end in the presence of the great discoveries now. For what we have now especially to seek in the interest of the individual man and of the human race is not a contempt and rejection of nature but the most acquaintance with it in order that by this knowledge we may understand it honour it and conquer it .
3:16: The new vision brought about by evolution changes everything then according to you?
LB: Obviously Richard. Compare man in accordance with the universally prevailing opinion of former times as being created and upon the earth by an Almighty sovereign or creative power about 5000 or 6000 years ago with the member of the organic creation during a period, in comparison with the few thousands of years covered by human history and tradition, that shrink almost to a single moment.
3:16: So the very long time we’ve been around changes how we see ourselves?
LB: Yes, but another circumstance may have contributed even more than these to the misapprehension of the truth and this was that the prejudice in question agreed remarkably with a widely diffused philosophical opinion which had by degrees become the darling of the general public.
3:16: What’s that?
LB: Well, according to this opinion man, as the final flower or crown of creation its corner stone as it were, could not have appeared upon this theatre of his being until the last and most recent geological period, the Alluvium, and thus he forms not only the highest fulfilment but also the final conclusion of all organic creative activity.
3:16: I see. This is another example of the anthropological error we spoke of a minute ago. Your point is that natural science now makes it clear we’re not special but just another part of nature.
LB: Yes Richard, for even at the first superficial glance it must be clear to every man who is moderately well educated that on all sides of his bodily structure man is most intimately allied and bound to the organic world surrounding him, that he throughout obeys the same organic laws of form, structure, adaptation and reproduction and that he must therefore necessarily be arranged as an integral constituent of one zoological system. It was and is possible to overlook this simple and important truth only by reason of the immense influence of human subjectivity or self esteem which regards it as degrading that we should be placed on the same grade as the animals or arranged with them in the same system. But as a matter of course in scientific matters this subjectivity must be put in the background and truth can only recognise a perfectly objective consideration.
3:16: You follow Huxley a deal in this don’t you? You think his thought experiment about Saturnian philosophers helps us understand the situation don’t you?
LB: Yes. To see rightly he says we should for a moment emancipate or disconnect our thinking selves from the mask of humanity. Let us imagine ourselves scientific inhabitants of the planet Saturn and well acquainted with the animated creatures which inhabit the earth their anatomical and zoological characters etc. Now suppose that some enterprising traveler whom the difficulties of space and gravitation had not prevented from visiting other planets had brought back with him from the earth among other things a specimen of the genus Homo, preserved maybe in a cask of rum, and that we have been called together to examine this specimen of a creature previously unknown to us of a peculiar erect, featherless biped and determine scientifically its position in the system. What would be the result of such an investigation?
All the Saturnian philosophers would agree without the least hesitation that the new creature was to be arranged in the well known group or sub-kingdom Vertebrata and among these was to be referred specially to the class Mammalia, as all the anatomical and zoological characters presented by it agree precisely with those of that group and class. If we were further to inquire in what particular subdivision or order of the Mammalia the creature in question was to be placed there could be no more room to doubt that it could belong only to one of these orders, namely, that of the Simiae or Apes - using that word in the broadest sense. T
Thus whatever system of organs be studied the comparison of their modifications in the ape series leads to one and the same result - that the structural differences which separate Man from the Gorilla and the Chimpanzee are not so great as those which separate the Gorilla from the lower apes. From all these considerations Huxley draws the important conclusion that from a systematico-zoological point of view we have not even the right to separate Man as a distinct order of Mammalia from the order of the Simiae or as they have hitherto been erroneously called Quadrumana or fourhanded animals and certainly not to sever him, as was formerly pretty generally done, entirely from the rest of the world and relegate him to a particular kingdom of nature, the so called human kingdom, standing on the same footing as the animal and vegetable kingdoms. On the contrary man, considered scientifically, can only be regarded as a distinct family of the highest order of Mammalia, an order which embraces in addition the true apes as well as the so called Prosimiæ Lemurs.
3:16: There have always been people who suspected an affinity between humans and other animals but it was never theorized properly was it?
LB: A fair point Richard. Indeed so much is this the case that as is pretty generally known for thousands of years men had no means of getting a knowledge of the human body except the dissection of the bodies of animals. Before men ventured in opposition to the general prejudice to dissect human bodies the sole aid to the knowledge of human anatomy was the dissection of Mammalia and by this means they were as well instructed as to the essential parts of the human frame as we are at the present day. The celebrated surgeon Galen of Pergamos who lived in the second century of our era and set up a system of medicine which maintained its predominance for nearly fourteen centuries studied the structure of the body only on the carcasses of apes which he had at once recognised as the most manlike in form of all animals. As late as the sixteenth century anatomy was taught and studied only from the skeleton of a Monkey .
Vesalius the body surgeon of the emperor Charles the fifth and of Philip the second of Spain was the first who ventured to dissect human bodies and in so doing was so unfortunate that during his dissection of the body of a young Spanish nobleman who had been under his treatment the heart began to beat. In accordance with the imperfect physiological notions of that age it was believed that Vesalius had dissected a living man and in order to expiate this great crime the celebrated anatomist was obliged to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on his return from which he perished by shipwreck.
3:16: Darwin’s evolutionary theory has changed all this?
LB: Since Darwin indicated what has given a perfectly new direction to the study of organic nature - namely that in it every thing depends upon development -proper attention has been paid to these facts at least on the part of the younger and more active naturalists and their great significance in a philosophical consideration of nature - which indeed cannot be too highly appreciated - has been recognized. This significance cannot be better indicated than in the following words of Professor Huxley ‘The facts he says to which I would first direct the reader's attention though ignored by many of the professed instructors of the public mind are easy of demonstration and are universally agreed to by men of science while their significance is so great that whoso has duly pondered over them will I think find little to startle him in the other revelations of Biology’
3:16: So what are these startling revelations of biology? Can you summarise for us the basis of your philosophical realism?
LB: Sure. Every living creature, whether large or small, high or low, simple or complex, commences its earthly existence in a very simple form infinitely different from its fully developed or perfect state and from this first stage to its final development passes through a whole series of successive changes or developmental stages. These stages or steps have now become perfectly well known by the investigations of embryology or the study of the evolution of the germ. In all those living beings - plants or animals which may be called highly organized - the first of these stages is the formation of an egg or germ cell whilst in the lowest forms increase or propagation is usually effected by simple division of the general substance of the body into two or more separate creatures or by budding gemmation sprouting and the like. Without question the mode of origin and the early stages of the development of Man are identical with those of the animals immediately below him in the scale. As regards the human ovum it is in all essential particulars like that of any other mammal differing at the utmost only a little in size.
3:16: But what significance do you read into this?
LB: It seems unnecessary to give any further description. This simple and yet complicated structure with which man, whether born in a palace or in a hovel, commences his existence as it would require to be made in precisely the same terms that have already been used in the egg of the Mammalia. There is no visible difference between them except that of size.
3:16: So we’re just a type of mammal descended from other animal ancestors. Who started putting this out as a theory? Darwin wasn’t the first was he?
LB: Professor Hermann Schaaffhausen ventured to lay down the outlines of the theory of organic development and to establish as its necessary consequence the doctrine of the animal derivation of man in three memoirs printed in the years 1853 1854 and 1858. And Dr HPD Reichenbach of Altona has a greater claim to priority than any of the naturalists. On the 24th September 1851 that gentleman delivered before the 28th Meeting of German Surgeons and Naturalists in Gotha a discourse On the Origin of Man printed at Altona in 1857 in which the doctrine of the animal derivation of Man was most definitely laid down and defended. There he asks – ‘But where was the soil on which the first man was formed and rested and where the maternal bosom from which he derived his nourishment?’ To these questions however the pride of man can only answer : The soil on which the first man was produced was an animal, his first mother, and the first nourishment of his mouth the milk of an animal.’
3:16: So the idea of evolution has been in the air some time?
LB: Yes, even Lamarck, celebrated predecessor of Darwin, did not hesitate at the commencement of the nineteenth century to apply the transformation established by him to man and assert the gradual production of man from a man-like Ape. In fact Darwin, himself the true father of the evolutionary theory now prevalent, proceeded more cautiously than Lamarck and for some reasons not yet explained left the question whether and how far this theory is to be applied to man untouched.
3:16: I think he has done this now.
LB: Ah, good. Anyhow, this however did not prevent its being perceived that the animal origin of man is equally a necessary consequence of the Darwinian as of any other theory of evolution and it is undoubtedly recognized as such by all the serious adherents of Darwin. But even if this were not the case it would not alter matters in the least for without Darwin and the Darwinian theory anthropology would of itself in course of time have arrived at this necessary result. Indeed even before Darwin it had already been attained although only in the minds of certain individual students.
If we accept only one great law of organic development leaving out of consideration Darwin and his theory its correctness or incorrectness we can form no other hypothesis of the production of man. For it is impossible to conceive that this law of development has suddenly been broken at a particular point and that by supernatural intervention a new member of such importance as man has been inserted in the natural series of beings and provided with all those animal resemblances which should belong to him in accordance with that law. The theory of the animal origin of man is an undeniable fact not merely of a rational theory but of science itself. It is supported by all things by the common plan of development in the entire living world.
3:16: There’s really no doubt about this is there? And this is what you take to be support for a materialistic conception of ourselves and the universe?
LB: There’s no doubt at all Richard. Even leaving Mr Darwin's views aside the whole analogy of natural operations furnishes so complete and crushing an argument against the intervention of any but what are termed secondary causes in the production of all the phenomena of the Universe that in view of the intimate relations between Man and the rest of the living world and between the forces exerted by the latter and all other forces I can see no excuse for doubting that all are coordinated terms of Nature's great progression from the formless to the formed, from the inorganic to the organic, from blind force to conscious intellect and will. It would be impossible to express more distinctly and decidedly the fundamental idea of the materialistic conception of the universe and nature and the developmental theory which stands in necessary connection therewith.
3:16: This evolutionism is something that philosophy now needs to recognize and start working out the consequences of doesn’t it?
LB: Yes, with the investigation the animal mind we at once arrive at the knowledge of different things from what the closet philosophers in pretentious but hollow wisdom have hitherto endeavoured to make us believe. We ascertain immediately the human being in his deepest degradation or in his primitive state approaches the animal world so closely that we involuntarily ask ourselves where the true line is to be drawn. Whoever then wishes to a judgment as to the true nature of man or his true in nature must not, as our philosophers and soidisant great thinkers usually do, leave out of consideration the primæval origin and developmental history of humanity and look merely at his own little self in the delusive mirror of self esteem. He must on the contrary grasp at nature itself with both hands and draw his knowledge from the innumerable springs which flow there in the richest abundance.
3:16: This is the point of your realism isn’t it? We can now get on with investigating the big issues about the world, including ourselves, based on science alone? And so ideas will inevitably change as our scientific investigations progress?
LB: Yes. The great mystery of the existence and origin of man on which so many generations have in vain exhausted their strength is it seems to me solved by the statements with regard to the position of man in nature and his natural relations to the universe given. An insight into the process of the formation of man of his origin and development in the past as in the present is all that we can rationally expect from science. For the question how or whence is the one which in accordance with the laws of cause and effect we can expect to be answered by nature and the of things.
3:16: Science can’t answer the why question though can it? You know, why is there something rather than nothing? That sort of thing.
LB: Why is a foolish question and goes far above us and never can be answered by us. If we were to ask why man is here it would be to the question why all other things exist, why the Universe exists, why there is any existence at all. That we can never expect a satisfactory answer to questions as these is self evident. Existence, whether individual or general, is simply a fact which we must admit as such. It is however quite a different matter when we take the how into consideration and set before us the question of cause and effect. In this department as we have said modern science has furnished us with the grandest and most unexpected results and has shown us that the whole great mystery of being but especially that of organic existence depends upon gradual evolution. In the process of evolution, so simple in itself, dwells the simple solution of all those complicated mysteries which man has hitherto believed could not be solved without the aid of supernatural powers.
3:16: Is getting rid of the supernatural an essential part of your philosophical realism?
LB: Of course Richard. All appeals to supernatural or unnatural or even merely forced modes of explanation must in this case be most stringently rejected. Simple natural suppositions in accordance with the known laws of nature or at all events not contradicting them can alone claim acceptance but these only until they are replaced by better ones approximating still more closely to the truth the real state of the case.
3:16: You think all supernatural or non-scientific explanations are just camouflaging our ignorance?
LB: It’s true Richard. When no explanation is with the existing means of science the case must is an open one requiring elucidation. But it is covered up and concealed from the public eye by theories after the well known and convenient speculative philosophers or by the use of terms which require an explanation of their own which may even be incapable of interpretation.
3:16: Some people find evolution threatening. They think we might be replaced by even smarter beasts?
LB: What higher or more perfect structures than ourselves may still slumber in the womb of time to come forth hereafter by the same process we know not. But upon one point our science leaves no doubt, namely, that hitherto nothing higher or more perfect than man has been produced by Nature and that it is not only the right but the duty of man to regard himself as the ruler over all existences accessible to him and to guide and change them as much as possible for his own necessities and purposes.
3:16: From your naturalistic realism, if we may call your philosophy that, you draw the conclusion that we have no other source of authority than ourselves.
LB: By Darwin's admirable investigations we have been taught to recognize as the principal cause of the transmutation and evolution of the organic world in its natural state that struggle for existence which has now so celebrated in combination with the influences of natural selection inheritance. If the perfectly purposeless cooperation of all these causes, in themselves purely mechanical, has produced not merely a transmutation but at the same a general advance in the organic world so as finally to lead to the birth of a being destined to put its own spontaneity in the place of the mechanical forces of nature, this is due neither to any preconceived plan nor to any personal merit but it is merely the necessary consequence of definite natural conditions coinciding precisely in a particular manner and no other. Man has therefore no one to thank for his existence and must seek the purpose of his existence only in himself and in his own welfare and that of his race.
3:16: You think it’s because humans have developed as they have that we no longer need to be governed by the struggle for existence that defines all natural beings. Ironically then, it is because we are beasts that we no longer have to be ruled by Darwinian blind chance and so forth?
LB: Exactly. When we recognize the fact that the activity of man himself has introduced an entirely new order into the world of living beings and partially at least substituted rational spontaneity for the blind force of nature we shall be inclined to doubt whether man in his present condition can be regarded as unconditionally governed by the above mentioned law or condition of things. And in fact we see how the civilized European or American by means of his improved arrangements and knowledge is enabled to maintain his existence under all latitudes and circumstances and even to compete successfully in their own countries with the aboriginal tribes who may be regarded as best adapted to the localities and climate.
3:16: You think humans will eventually be pretty much the same everywhere don’t you?
LB: I do. All backward branches of the great human family will by degrees disappear. It need scarcely be added that the dominion of man over the organic world of animals and plants is now so great and permanent that as Alfred Wallace Darwin's associate in his studies and opinions has already well shown we may foresee a time when there will only be cultivated plants and animals and when human selection will have replaced natural selection every where except in the sea.
3:16: Yet you think that although a single most powerful civilization might take over the whole world you also think that the idea of the powerful destroying the weak is part of a natural battle for survival idea which civilization is able to overcome don’t you? How do you deal with this seeming contradiction?
LB: So far it would appear that all the momenta which connected with the progress and dissemination of civilization over the earth's surface are less in favour of the of new races of man than of the diffusion of a or less uniform type, of high human culture, and would also be the issue of human development which accordance with the general principles of humanity and must appear most desirable. The suppression of lowly race or people by a higher or more powerful one always produced such a mass of misery and injustice the repetition of such a process can only evoke the most disagreeable sensations in every friend of humanity.
In the present state of the human conscience such suppressions as this would appear to be doubly cruel and lamentable even though the replacement of the inferior by a higher or better type must in itself be regarded as just. But inasmuch as this displacement or replacement may take place under present circumstances without acts of violence and merely by the irresistible power of conviction the common and uniform progress of humanity has become a more probable course than that of the suppression of races. At present indeed mere example generally suffices among the civilized nations of the earth to render every progress every improvement every increase of knowledge common property.
3:16: I see. So this isn’t a kind of eugenics you’re suggesting. You’re basically saying that once people see the benefits of the higher civilization they’ll want it and imitate it and therefore become part of the powerful one?
3:16: You don’t think we’ve completely suppressed the battle for existence though do you? In fact you argue that it’s been transferred into the domain of morals don’t you?
LB: Oh Yes Richard. The struggle for the means of existence rages on the domain of morals. It has been transferred as violently as it formerly did on the physical field. Moreover it is more complicated and multifarious than with nature as it no longer relates merely to the simple support of existence but to a great number of political, social or material positions. In comparison with the mere struggle with nature the social struggle of man has the further great disadvantage that the effects of the natural laws are more or less prejudiced by the will and the contrivances of man and that in this case therefore it is by no means always the best, the strongest or the best fitted individual that may expect to be victorious over his competitors. On the contrary the rule is rather the suppression of individual intellectual greatness by the influence of family position, race, wealth and so forth in the interests of personal preferences.
3:16: That’s disappointing. You also think humans suffer more than most animals and this makes a difference?
LB: The struggle of man for existence is also far more full of suffering than that of the animal in as much as man, whether as a class or an individual, generally feels the consequences of neglect, oppression or conquest very heavily and painfully whilst the animal only sees a blind natural destiny in his lot and bows before it unresistingly. This sentiment in man becomes especially painful when the general consciousness of the good or better is more or less in advance of the actually existing arrangements.
3:16: And you think we’re really in trouble now because of this?
LB: It is in such a critical period that we now find ourselves for there has probably never been a period in which there existed so great a disproportion between requirement and fulfilment, between idea and actuality, between thought and being as at present. All arrangements in the state in society in the church, in education in work in consequence of a most prominent law of inertia have remained far behind what is required by the general human consciousness elevated as it is by scientific knowledge, reflection and material progress. If the forces opposed to progress had not so great and powerful a reserve in the indolence and immobility of the great and ignorant masses, a very different state of things would long since have taken the place of that which has hitherto prevailed.
3:16: This is where your socialism kicks in doesn’t it? You think that individualism is too close to our beastiality and that we need to be more aware of the social world we live in – which is what you see as the higher form of humanity? Why do you think this?
LB: Well, yes. We must regard the future of man and of the human race. But for this purpose it is above all things necessary for him to recognize that his natural destiny can never be attained by him so long as he like the animals feels only as an individual being and carries on his struggle for existence upon his own account alone and guided by mere personal or egotistic motives. Man is a sociable or social being and can evidently attain his destiny and consequently also happiness only in conjunction with his like or in other words in the midst of human society. The individual is all that he can be only in and with humanity at large or by its means, and his endeavours after personal happiness are therefore most intimately connected with the striving of mankind in general after prosperity and progress.
3:16: Does personal benevolence have no place in this- things like charity?
LB: Yes. Personal benevolence derived from the principles of general philanthropy accomplishes much that serves to soften the hardships and terrors, or at all events to shelter those who are overcome and being pitilessly trodden down. But that this is the case is rather the result of chance than of necessity and we cannot deny that the essential principles upon which even now human society is founded are still the old principles of the rough struggle with nature which have only acquired a milder form by their transfer to the moral or intellectual region.
3:16: It seems societies are all horribly hierarchical and class ridden.
LB: It is the case that social egotism has no bounds and recoils before no deeds. Even nowadays those who are stronger, richer more highly placed in society or more knowing than the rest exercise an almost undisputed dominion over the weak, the ignorant and the lowly and think it quite proper to exert their powers to the utmost in their own interests. FA Lange has added to the struggle for existence the struggle for an advantageous position, the fundamental law of which however is the same as that of the struggle for existence inasmuch as the germs of the capacity and inclination for advantageous position are scattered through the masses but destined in the great majority to be aborted.
3:16: Inequality is for you then the big issue.
LB: In the greatest possible equalization of the means by which the struggle for existence is fought out by each individual lies the problem of the whole future of the human race
3:16: Does your socialism demand that we stop being competitive with one another then?
LB: Not at all Richard. Competition in itself is so beneficial may will continue but it must be transformed from the old and rude form of contest and destruction in the struggle for existence into the nobler and essentially human form of competition for the highest general well being. In other words the struggle for the means of existence will be replaced by the struggle for humanity at large and replace mutual conflict by universal harmony, personal misfortune by general happiness and general hatred by universal love. With every step in this path man will depart more and more widely from his past animal condition from his subjugation to the forces of nature and their inexorable laws and approach more and more to the ideal of human development.
3:16: But it seems that we’re growing an idle rich. This can’t be right can it?
LB: Although it must be regarded as a very just principle that whoever does not work shall not eat nevertheless daily experience teaches that a great many do eat who do not work and never have worked and from this it follows as an inevitable consequence that those who do work must do so not only for themselves but also for the nourishment of a whole army of idlers.
3:16: So the idlers get more than the workers. What do you say to those who say that the children of the rich deserve to be idle because their parents worked hard for their riches and have the right to pass it on?
LB: Please Richard. It must not be objected to this that these people live upon the exertions or services of their ancestors because the most essential necessaries of life are exactly those which cannot be created beforehand and when they are consumed must necessarily have been produced by the exertions of contemporaries.
3:16: This work inequality affects intellectuals and artists too doesn’t it, especially those trying to work for the good of everyone rather than just themselves?
LB: What applies to bodily work applies also and almost in a higher degree to intellectual labour which usually becomes less remunerative and more proletarian the more it is directed towards the highest and most truly ideal problems of humanity. Philosophers and poets are born proletaires except when the luck of property has smiled upon them in their cradle and even in business the heaviest and most wearing intellectual labour is generally performed by those who are worst paid for it.
3:16: Some say that poverty spurs great artists and thinkers on.
LB: That's crap. It is a very poor consolation and moreover untrue to say that want drives great intellects to the production of extraordinary works and that wealth and comfort keep them from it. Whoever is kept back from intellectual creation by wealth or comfort is really destitute of the characters of prominent and creative spirits for whom the outpouring of their inward thoughts into the bosom of mankind is as much a necessity as eating drinking and sleeping. The leisure which is indispensable to the poet the philosopher and so on is wanting to the man who is pressed by want and the cares of life and the scattering of his powers which is caused thereby makes him attain that which forms and must form a mainspring of the progress of the creative spirit, namely success, too late if at all.
3:16: Do you think the relentless greed and egoism of our times is actually impacting on the quality of intellectual and artistic work being produced?
LB: Yes. What an infinitely injurious influence upon the quality of our modern literature this circumstance has exerted is too well known to render any further reference to it necessary. Professorial detail work or hasty workshop work speculating upon the pocket of the reader with abject subjection to the temporarily prevailing spirit or taste of the reader is the predominant character of our literature whilst manly rectitude and philosophical conviction are seen to encounter everywhere a mountain of vulgarity ignorance and calumny.
3:16: So what are the foundations of present society according to you?
LB: I agree with Radenhausen. Mistrust, mutual plunder and egotism! It is a war of every one against every one in which it is not philanthropy only an insatiable striving after gain that forms the mainspring. FA Lange, who like us regards the struggle for existence as the essential spring of social movement, also calls egoism the mainspring of our society. A bellum omnium contra omnes. A war of all against all. A universal race in which every one strives to outrun or even to destroy every body else. Could we not almost represent it as Burmeister does the Brazilians: Every one does what he thinks he may do without punishment, cheats, takes advantage of, deceives and makes use of the others as well as he can with the conviction that no one would treat him any better. In general they regard any one who does not take this course as too stupid and silly to be able to follow it.
Every one does what agrees with his nature and follows the impulses communicated to him either by this or by the external conditions of life. He does what appears to him to be advantageous and suitable for himself and for the attainment of his objects without troubling himself about moral principles which have not become positive. ‘All men are practical atheists’, as Feuerbach says. A man who cares more for others than for himself is usually, as Cotta says, called a good silly fellow.
3:16: What is your socialist solution then? We all need to become good silly fellows?
LB: Yes! The principles of justice and fraternity which hitherto played only a secondary part in the state and in society must be made the principal thing. In theory we possess far higher ideal of true humanity than that which actually exists. Morals must be introduced into national economy and by this means that hateful contradiction between theory and practice which moves our existing society to its misfortune must be got rid of. Morality itself must however, as even Adam Smith recommended, be founded upon sympathy. It is the regard of the individual for the whole that settles morality.
3:16: Opponents say this is just not practical. It’s reckless to try something like this.
LB: M Busch describes the Shaker town of Watervliet in America which had adopted the principles of community of all property and non compulsory labour - work at pleasure. The colony was in a state of the highest prosperity. Pohl a Scotchman founded also in America a colony in which all constraint was to be done away with and every one was to work only according to his inclination and powers. The most celebrated of the many societies arranged in accordance with socialistic principles is the Phalanstère of New Jersey in America which only broke up after thirteen years of a flourishing existence. Active philanthropy served this society as a guiding principle. The land belonged to all in common, all also dwelt and ate together. Every one worked at what he pleased and as much as liked: the work was estimated and put to his credit as a certain sum. Every week a balancing of accounts took place when the liabilities and assets of each individual were settled according to and the amount due by him to the society for his maintenance. There was no religion or church but good schools. The women had exactly the same rights as the men even to the right of voting and a select committee governed and decided upon the reception of new members who had to submit to a year of trial.
Even in the prosaic land of China communism has taken root. For there has existed in that country since the nineteenth century a secret society called Thiantihoei or of Heaven and earth which has extended itself from Canton to Malacca, Java and the Indian Archipelayo and was discovered in the year 1824 and made itself remarkable by a rising in the year 1836. The adherents of this sect overcome the terrible contrast between poverty and riches from the principle that all men have an equal right to of the earth and of their properties. They but precepts of brotherly love and practical benevolence and strive after the liberation of mankind from misery and oppression.
3:16: Even so, it looks like getting from where we are to communism is too hard a transition.
LB: Not at all. Even the transition from individual life to community would not be so rugged as it would appear since our present life is already interwoven much more than is usually supposed with communism. The direct and indirect savings in governmental arrangements which are now so costly, and in the many devices for the security and maintenance of private property, would be incalculably great whilst the numerous losses produced by the whole army of evil inclinations such as avarice, hatred, envy, revenge, calumny, hardheartedness and so on by which mankind is more severely punished than by a plague would cease.
3:16: It seems like a vision we’ve heard before in religions?
LB: The only difference will be that this Paradise of the future will be not imaginary but real, that it will come not at the beginning but at the close of our development and that it will not be the gift of a Deity but the result of the labours and merits of man and of the human intellect.
3:16: So in your socialism, what is the role of government?
LB: The purpose of government is the attainment of the greatest possible welfare for all. As this is only under the existence of the greatest possible for all the free spontaneity of all nations and the legal equality of every citizen of a state must be the principles of every constitution of the future. That requirement a priori excludes every monarchical or hierarchical principle is a matter of course. The introduction of a republican form of government as in the civilized states of Europe, America etc are therefore only be regarded as a question of time. Existing monarchies are nothing more than the remnants of the former feudal state and of the military of past times or the perishing ruins of a period when man only recognised the relations of Lord and of conqueror and conquered.
3:16: A constitutional monarchy like in the UK doesn’t do badly Ludwig when we look at the mess of some of the republics around the world.
LB: Many indeed will reply and with justice that in politics less depends on the form than on the substance and that as history proves men may live with much less freedom under a republican form of Government than under some others But the misuse of a thing does not justify the heaping of blame upon it.
3:16: Hmm. Are you a federalist or centralist republican?
LB: Among the republicans of the present day there exists a rather profound diversity of opinion as to the comparative advantages of federalism and centralism of a confederate or united republic. The latter being the simpler and more natural would probably not have met with so many opponents if the minds of politicians had not been unnecessarily prejudiced against its principles by the disagreeable results which have been experienced in France from the excessive extension of centralization. On the other hand the experience neither of Switzerland nor of North America, both federal republics, is at all in favour of federalism - the consequence of which has been in the former the proverbial cantonish spirit and the Sonderbund war and in the latter the great American civil war which spread so much misery and unhappiness over the great republic of the west. In federal republics we have to fear the breaking up and the self will of the individual states whilst in the united republics the infringement of liberty by the central power and an unnecessary subordination of political or local peculiarities under the general will are to be dreaded.
3:16: Ok, I take that as a don’t know. Do you think nations should exist?
LB: A chief difficulty in this mutual unification of peoples will consist in the definition and limitation of nationalities Important as are the arguments that may be urged against.
3:16: You think the sort of toxic nationalism that caused so many wars is dying out don’t you? LB: That absurd national hatred of former times which has produced so much mischief has already really disappeared from the minds of the larger and more powerful civilized nations to make room for a mutual esteem and for a general desire for peaceful relations or peaceful competition, as for example between the Germans and the French, the French and the English, the Germans and the Italians etc. No doubt this sentiment will by degrees be diffused throughout the masses and render great national wars no longer possible.
3:16: I’m not so sure about that Ludwig – we must talk about Adolf and Vladimir afterwards. Anyway. Social oppression is another big issue these days isn’t it?
LB: All political progress is and must remain a chimæra so long as society feels uneasy and uncomfortable in its very heart and the people will not attain to quietness and the cheerful enjoyment of their existence until political liberation has found its necessary complement in social freedom. In no department of human being has the struggle for existence raged more violently or left behind it deeper traces of its destructive action than in the social field since it passed from natural to the intellectual field of action.
3:16: You’d think more people would notice this wouldn’t you?
LB: Unfortunately by daily custom and constant familiarity our nerves have become so blunted to the presence of much misery that we seem scarcely any longer to notice the boundless inequalities and injustices which have been the consequences of the social struggle for existence. We find the whole thing just as natural as the terrible and remorseless nature struggle itself. But in this we forget the immense difference that exists between the natural law which admits of no exceptions and usually destroys its sacrifices quickly and without their ever coming to a consciousness of their condition and the conscious struggle of man which is carried on under the pressure of regulations and conditions which being human are capable of improvement.
3:16: Do you think the same principles that you think should govern politics should also govern our social arrangements?
LB: We have just seen that the great principles of liberty and equality are the determining and almost undisputed principles of the future from a political point of view and we can by no means see why these same principles should not also be recognized as the determining principles of social progress.
LB: Richard, we shall hardly find any one to assert that oppression and plunder are not so bad socially as politically and no one will give a negative answer to the question whether any individual man at the moment of his birth does not bring with him into the world an equal claim upon the entire material and intellectual property of humanity and especially of his people or nation. On the other hand no one will be any more inclined to deny that in reality and in the present state of society this claim is a horrible mockery. For one is born with the crown upon his head, another rolls in countless gold even in his cradle, another with his first breath may call his own a great part of that soil upon which we all are born and which justly should be the common property of us all, and another before he begins to think is destined to hold rank, riches, position consideration and lordship over his fellows whilst another comes naked and bare into the world like the beasts, and like the Son of Man has no place where he may lay his head.
3:16: You see inequalities of wealth a key problem with society don’t you?
LB: It is. Boundless poverty side by side boundless riches, boundless power side by side with weakness, boundless happiness, side by side boundless misery, boundless slavery side by side boundless will, boundless excess side by side with want, fabulous knowledge side by side with ignorance, the most strenuous labour side by side careless enjoyment, beautiful and glorious things side by side with the deepest depression of human existence is the character of our existing society which in the of these contrasts exceeds even the worst times of political oppression and slavery.
3:16: You think this a result of competition don’t you?
LB: The place of the old political violence has been replaced by the rage of social oppression and plunder which recognizes no other object than the becoming rich and prosperous as quickly as possible at the expense of others and for the attainment of this purpose leaves no means of mutual competition or overreaching untried.
3:16: Winning in this social violence makes people venal, but also losing too according to you?
LB: It is a matter of course that those who have been beaten in competition or overreached endeavour to make good their loss by every means offered to them by cunning or power although owing to the inequality of the contest they usually meet but little success in this. Of forbearance or pity there is no more in this social war in which every one's hand is against his neighbour at least as far as it is carried on between individuals than in the rude natural struggle already described. It is as it were a general flight or race of fear before the troubles and wants of life in which the majority in their flight have scarcely a glance of pity let alone a helping hand to bestow upon those who are sinking to the ground beside them and strike down those who stand in their way without hesitation. Unceasingly the stream roars onwards over those unfortunates who fall .
3:16: Socialism looks to alter the game doesn’t it? How?
LB: That the existing egotism of human nature which rules society is principally the consequence of the egotistical state of human feeling and society which has prevailed for many thousand years and hardened in the constant struggle for existence, a better guidance and education of the human mind and especially of the spirit of Society in the direction of reciprocity and fraternity would produce astonishingly different results.
3:16: But hasn’t communism always failed by internal tensions of its own system?
LB: Don’t fall for those stories Richard. All the communistic attempts that have been made have not failed and that where they fell through they were often destroyed rather by external than by internal difficulties. We may justly call attention to the fact that the advantages of a community of goods are extraordinarily great both economically and morally and that we may easily imagine a state of Society in which without any danger to the objects of Society itself or to the individuality of the persons composing its labour would acquire a perfectly unconstrained and spontaneous character serving only the purposes of the community.
3:16: You think basing our thinking on science helps in this because it shows that we, unlike non-human animals , can oppose injustices?
LB: Yes Richard. Here again science and especially natural science gives the right clue. For if as has already been shown the true task of humanity or of human progress in opposition to the rude natural state consists in the struggle against the struggle for existence or in the replacement of the power of nature by the power of reason. It is clear that this object must above all be attained by the greatest possible equalization of the circumstances and means under which and with which each individual has to fight out his struggle for existence and to carry on the competition for the preservation of his life. Nature knows no such equalization or admits it only in an exceedingly imperfect fashion and the weaker or less favoured party saves itself in Nature rather by evasion or flight from the stronger or from unfavourable influences than by direct opposition.
3:16: So socialism is when reason replaces the law of nature?
LB: Well put Richard. Reason in place of the law of nature. If in politics have long since come to replace the old system of oppression and domination by equal rights and equal duties we must likewise socially replace the system of mutual plunder hitherto prevailed by the principle of equal means and circumstances.
3:16: It seems kind of obvious once you spell it out doesn’t it? The law of nature isn’t really fair competition is it?
LB: Of course not. What sort of combat would it in which one of the combatants made his appearance naked and armed with a wooden sword whilst the other to battle cased in steel from head to foot and with sabres and guns? What sort of race would it be in which one of the runners had to trust only to the powers of his feet whilst the other had the aid of all the means of locomotion which the progress of the arts had rendered? And what sort of competition for existence is that in which one party appears furnished with all those advantages which rank, riches, culture, position etc are able to confer upon him whilst the other has nothing to depend upon but the force of his naked arms or of his uncultivated understanding, a force which moreover has probably been checked in its development even in his earliest youth by bodily or spiritual destitution? Such a state of things cannot really deserve the name of a struggle or competition for existence as its issue in by far the greater number of cases is decided beforehand and the whole merely represents a state of permanent social slavery sanctified by age and inherited from generation to generation.
3:16: So what’s to be done?
LB: In order to bring about the desiderated equalization to a certain extent and place the individual in a position in which he may be able to develop his natural talents satisfactorily and find no obstacles to applying his industry and his faculties in any direction of social life far greater means must be furnished to the community or the state than has hitherto been the case.
3:16: So this is the reason for socialism’s desire for a big state?
LB: Exactly.This object may be attained in part by giving up the so called ground rents especially that which arises from simple increase of the population or by bringing back the property in land and soil which of right belongs to all in common out of the possession of private individuals into that of the community and in part by a perfectly feasible gradually increasing limitation in favour of the community of the right of leaving private property to descendants.
3:16: This doesn’t sound like communism.
LB: These proposals have nothing to do with communism although to many they may at the first glance appear to be connected with it as nothing is contained in them which is in contradiction to the principle of private property as such or which could hinder the individual from enjoying or employing in the fullest degree the produce of his own industry and endeavours .
3:16: I see. Who in their right minds would oppose this?
LB: The so called Manchester men. The Manchester men who see in government only a sort of police establishment for the security of life and property will not find this easily intelligible. They wish to know as little as possible of government and only require that social murder and slavery should go on with as little hindrance as possible under its protection. In this indeed they are strongly supported by a reference to our present conditions of state which really make all governmental interference in private and social relations appear most undesirable and represent only a political plundering of the entire body of the people on a large scale by a dominant minority A very different thing from this government of force, which must be regarded as a remnant of the middle ages, is the true popular government in which the community is only the expression of all and in which all are only the expression of the community. Such a state as this really resembles an organism in which all the juices flow constantly and in uninterrupted streams from the circumference to the centre to flow back again immediately from the centre to the different parts.
3:16: The growth of enormous private fortunes is a real problem today Ludwig. How do you see this problem, I presume your evil Manchester men are all in favour of this as well?
LB: The enormous private fortunes which have been gradually accumulated chiefly in consequence of inheritance and marriage in the hands of individuals or families and the employment of which is left entirely to the will of individuals cause just the same danger to the community or to the state as the excessive possession of land by private individuals Richard. By the immense influence which property and riches have acquired in our present social and political condition these fortunes have arrived at the formation of a state in the state and in time to come and in proportion as the theory of the Manchester men makes way they will do this still more and finally things will come to such a pass that no regular government can any longer exist. Money or the god Mammon will in the end remain the sole ruler of states and we even now use a very characteristic expression when we call the millionaires ‘Money princes’ as if to intimate that in their hands property and riches are combined with exorbitant political influence.
And let me add Richard that the thirst for money and riches has is not like any other thirst that is stopped by being satisfied . Every rich man is inspired by the wish to become still richer in order that he may excel those who already exceed him in riches in display and the cases are comparatively rare which great private wealth is employed in carrying generally useful plans for the furtherance of struggling talent and so forth. It is clear that only and impulses are cultivated which are useless such as avarice, jealousy, envy, ostentation, dishonesty and so on whilst philanthropy and the support of suffering people and sacrifices for great purposes furthering the wellbeing of man in material or intellectual matters stand far behind these egotistical motives or tendencies.
3:16: Is capital to blame?
LB: Good question Richard. So while at present the wealth of the nation is to a certain extent held in private hands and in general employed in a manner either useless or positively injurious to the community this necessarily leads to the question of capital. Capital in the most general sense is another denomination for work already done and completed or, more correctly expressed, it is the collected and stored up bodily and intellectual work of our ancestors and contemporaries converted into possessions or useful property of all kinds such as money, arable lands, houses, goods, means of transport, tools, knowledge and so on. From this definition it appears at once how brainless and senseless is the cry against capital as such which is now the fashion among the working classes.
3:16: Ok, that’s a surprise. You’re actually pro-capital?
LB: The battle cry of the workman should not be ‘Down with capital!’ but ‘Long live capital!’ Were we in a position at present with a single blow to cause all capital to disappear from the world we should voluntarily throw ourselves back into that rude and miserable state in which our earliest ancestors led their half animal lives in a most imperfect manner. The progress of civilization consists chiefly in the gradual accumulation of those innumerable appliances and knowledges by which alone a civilized life freed from the rude bonds of the force of nature is possible.
3:16: Some socialists would disagree with you wouldn’t they? I think Mr Marx might.
LB: Well true, many define capital as the excess of the produce of labour over its wages or as the increased value of the work performed by the capitalistic method of production which the capitalist or speculator puts in his pocket. It is clear that this is no definition nor even an explanation of the mode of origin of capital but only an expression of one of those multifarious processes by which capital accumulates in individual hands. By such definitions nothing is explained but only an unnecessary agitation is produced. Even FA Lange gives no explanation of the mode of origin of capital but only explains the or one of the causes of its unfair distribution when he says that capital on the whole originates in part directly and in part indirectly from the lordly possessions and the privileges of the feudal ages causes.
3:16: But surely there is something very wrong with capitalism as we have it now?
LB: The evil of which we have to complain is not due to the fact that this treasure or capital in the widest sense exists at all but to the circumstance that it is not in the same measure or in the same manner at the command of every individual.
3:16: So it’s not capital as such but its unfair distribution that’s wrong?
LB: Of course. If all had capital no one would have occasion to complain of it but in all probability every one would tell of its advantageous effects. It is only the interest on capital that converts capital into that detested instrument of the rich against the poor by which the former are always sure that without any exertions of their own the labour of others will always be performed for them and for their support. The power of capital has its foundation not in the existence of capital as such but solely in its unequal distribution which contradicts the principles not only of justice but also those of sound national economy.
3:16: And there’s nothing justifying why wealth is so unequally distributed?
LB: No one will assert that those in whose hands capital or the industry lie have earned it by their own activity and industry alone or that the poverty and property of the lower and working classes are the consequences of misfortunes which they have brought. There is therefore no other means to satisfy justice except the partly permanent restoration of capital wealth into the hands of the community or of mankind as such.
3:16: Won’t there still be the problem of the privately owned capital?
LB: The former power of private capital itself will lose almost all its importance in the presence of the enormous concentration of the wealth of the people in the hands of the state or of the community.
3:16: So what will be gained by putting the wealth back into the hands of the state?
LB: The chief benefit will be in the fact that the wealth of the nation and no longer under the influence of the arbitrary will, the stupidity, the malevolence or the avarice of private individuals. It will no longer be applied to unproductive purposes but solely to the benefit and welfare of all.
3:16: So we get free health, free education, free housing, free food and drink – basically we get a strong welfare state?
LB: Yes. We shall have an inexhaustible national wealth. And money will scarcely be necessary to the state. It will probably in most cases be possible to attain the purposes of society by organization and mutual of work.
3:16: Like in Star Trek. Cool. So it’s all about getting the distribution of capital right? You apply the same kind of thinking to work don’t you?
LB: Yes. One of the greatest follies which the present age has committed and is still committing is the creation of a special labourer's question and its separation from the great or general social questions. In this case also, as in the question of capital, the root of the matter does not lie in work itself but only in its unjust distribution. Fundamentally, all men are labourers with the exception of the comparatively few who live upon the stored up fat of their predecessors or upon the labour of others and if work as is certainly the case is very differently paid for, this generally stands in a not unjustifiable relation to the kind and difficulty of the work and the greatness of the dangers and expenses connected with its acquisition or performance.
It is therefore only an unnatural revivification of that class opposition which is in contradiction to all the principles of modern times to place the labourer par excellence - that is to say the industrial or factory workman - in contradistinction to all the other classes of society as Lassalle has done and to require for him special privileges within a society which has elevated political equality into its leading principle.
3:16: You disagree with Lassalle on this don’t you?
LB: I say: labour is depressed, not the labourer.
3:16: Ok, so what’s the argument here? I thought we were all for supporting the workers so to speak!
LB: Richard, Richard, Richard. The ignorant workman, excited by all sorts of demonstrations, has nowadays accustomed himself to regard his master as the real cause of his miseries and wrongs but this is just as unwise or foolish as for him to regard capital in itself as his enemy. Without capital and without a master he might at any moment die of hunger and as a work taker he is very often in a comparatively much more favourable position than his work giver who on his part if he is not himself a capitalist depends upon other capitalists and in general has to struggle with a multitude of galling cares and dangers of which his workmen have no conception .
3:16: So again you’re saying it’s about the relationship between the work taker and giver that needs to be changed rather than trying to abolish one or the other or both? Your target is the capitalistic mode of production, as Mr Marx calls it?
LB: Yes. The existing relations between work givers and work takers or the so called capitalistic mode of production is only a necessary and inevitable result of our given social relations and those who, whilst acknowledging these relations declaim against this mode of production and its consequences which are certainly often very grievous, act in just as wise a manner as a surgeon who should take a symptom or external manifestation of a disease for the disease itself. Moreover the reproaches cast upon the capitalistic mode of production and the so called wages system generally apply only to very large industrial undertakings and to those trades in which only working hands and capital are employed whilst wherever a business or a factory depends upon the creative activity, the inventive genius, the industry or any other special faculty of its undertaker or even upon the particular goodness of its whole organization, the increased gain falsely called the premium on capital of the undertaker or organizer is very well earned.
3:16: Do you think it’s obvious that the rich work should work against your socialist proposals?
LB: That the propertied classes should fear and detest the social revolution from personal and class interests is intelligible and excusable although the notions which are usually formed of such revolutions and their consequences are generally much more dreadful than the things themselves. On the other hand it is incomprehensible and inexcusable that these same classes should be just as shy and recusant as towards the social revolution itself towards all proposals intended to check social evils in a peaceable manner and to lead by gradual reform to a better state of things.
3:16: You think the middle classes are too narrow in their thinking to help in this?
LB: The words Money Credit Parliament Ministerial Responsibility and so forth exhaust the whole treasury of their social and political ideas. The highest flight they can take is to the requirement of a ‘free course for every one’ which they regard as the non plus ultra of liberalism.
3:16: So what must be done? You think Lassalle’s proposed solution of productive associations a mistake don’t you?
LB: In order to get rid of the wages system and give the actual produce of his labour instead of the wages Lassalle and his adherents have proposed the establishment of productive associations as they are called. That is to say, independent associations of workmen for productive purposes. But the case for his proposals seem very improbable without some previous social reforms and would very soon appear that these state factories would by no means be in a position to attain the object expected them - namely the liberation of the workman from his social position or would attain it only in a very imperfect degree. For in the first place the average net profit of a particular factory or business which may certainly appear very large in the hands of an individual is very small as soon as it comes to be divided among all the partakers and co labourers in the business or among a great number and in times of crisis, want of business or of greatly increased competition it may even fall far below the level of what is generally paid to the individual workman as wages.
In the second place the factories guaranteed by the state - assuming their practicability and greater profit to be permanent - will still benefit only a part and probably a comparatively small part of the working population. Thus even if we presuppose the establishment and the anticipated result of such associations established by the aid of the state there will always remain a great residue of workers not engaged in these associations. The necessary consequence of this is the formation of an aristocracy of labourers and of a fifth state besides the existing four. Within this fifth state and among these true prolétaires the whole movement will then begin again from the commencement and indeed more violently threateningly and bitterly than before as the hatred of the poor will be excited against their better situated.
3:16: Nevertheless things like unions have helped haven’t they? I support unions.
LB: It is true that state aid in itself and as a principle is by no means so objectionable as Lassalle's opponents assert and the arguments against it which it has been attempted to derive from the accepted nature of the state are entirely untenable. But without a previous reformation of the law of property and without the state being furnished with enormous means it is simply an impossibility and it is therefore quite natural that under the actually existing state of things self help in accordance with the proposals of the celebrated political economist Schulze Delitzsch is preferred to it among really intelligent work.
3:16: But you’re not really in favour of this self help stuff are you?
LB: Indeed this self help in which so many at present pride themselves with mistaken vanity is in itself only a very poor expedient and as a principle just as inefficient as state assistance is efficient. For self help without means merely signifies simple failure or gradual languishing. If we throw a man who cannot swim without any means of keeping himself above water into a rushing stream and life is just such a stream he will certainly sink in it But if we previously teach him to swim or to sail and give him a boat or put an oar into his hand he will struggle successfully with the waves. But the blindness that exists as to the present state of society is so great that those who possess all the resources for the struggle or for onward movement in the greatest superfluity furnish none of them to their poor or struggling brother but refer him scornfully to that self help.
3:16: This is why you attack Lassalle because he doesn’t attack the roots of the problem?
LB: Richard, an evil is not cured by its symptoms or external phenomena but attacking it at the root. In this respect Lassalle has much mischief by raising a special workman's question when he should have disclosed and attacked the social defects with his universal suffrage and state associations he held out a bait to the workmen which will leave them miserably in the lurch.
3:16: Wasn’t Lassalle a socialist nevertheless?
LB: No. Lassalle was no socialist as so many in their ignorance suppose Richard but an economist. At least his proposals have nothing a socialistic character about them. Almost at the moment of the first appearance of Lassalle the author publicly expressed the opinion here maintained of him. The crude communism into which Lassalle's labour movement has since fallen is however the best proof of its intrinsic untenability. But for the workmen themselves it is a bad sign that names such as those of Lassalle could become a sort of Shiboleth or cry to divide them into two hostile camps contending with each other with great fury. This shows a frightful want of consideration and judgment. But man should have no idols whether religious political scientific or social. Lets leave idolatry to the middle ages, to the hypocrites, blockheads and the sluggards.
3:16: Should the family be abolished on socialist grounds?
LB: The family in its true form exists only for the rich and prosperous whilst the poor man or the prolétaire know the family only in a form which in general constitutes the direct opposite of what it should be. The family life of the lower and lowest classes is unfortunately as a rule rather a nursery of evil than of good and it fulfils its essential purpose only in a imperfect manner. For during by far the greater of the day both parents are absent from home seeking their livelihood and as to the children when under the most defective care and domestic bringing up they have attained a certain age they are regarded by their parents rather as working instruments than as human beings entrusted to their care. The father who in common life leads a dependent and servile or uniform unintellectual existence sees in his wife and children the only beings in the world over whom he is justified in exerting a certain personal authority and in the few moments of his being at home or of his family life revenges himself by the rough treatment or maltreatment of these beings for his social depression. If to this as is so frequently the case drunkenness be added the matter becomes still worse. The poor children grow up in constant anxiety in want under the most unfavourable conditions for life and health and misguided by the constant spectacle of coarseness and evil.
3:16: Wow, that’s bleak Ludwig. You’re very concerned about child poverty and the family aren’t you?
LB: Animal impulses restrained by no moral counterpoise and want of insight or of true family sentiment also allow the families of the poor to become generally much more numerous than those of the rich and thus the wretchedness of the rising generation is incalculably increased. But our existing system of police which employs such great means to manifest a hypocritical care for the bare life of those under it and which sends a poor girl who in her shame and despair has got rid of her illegitimate child to the house of correction for many years makes no enquiry whether and how a great - perhaps the greater part - of its future citizens are maltreated both corporeally and intellectually in their childish days and regards them merely as the property of their parents who are just as likely to rear their child into a monster as into a good citizen. But if the monster is there against our will the christian state raised upon the foundations of true morality is also at hand to punish the unfortunate victim with chains and dungeon with sword and rack for its own guilt.
3:16: Is it just poor families that are terrible?
LB: No. Not only in the lowest classes of society but also in its middle and even at its highest point the family is only too often a school of despotism or of evil and rather the tomb than the cradle of good and this is especially the case when the chief of the family has a defective character or a bad disposition or when misfortunes disappointments and so forth he is driven desperate courses or finally when the harmony between husband and wife which is so necessary for the existence of a good family is wanting .
3:16: How important is education for your socialism?
LB: Immensely important Richard. Both duty and interest prescribe to the government of the future to turn its chief attention to a general uniform system of popular education such as may satisfy the claims of the present state of knowledge. What we require at present above all therefore, especially in Germany, is the establishment of a few High Schools or Universities which would leave entirely out of consideration all learned professions and only cultivate a general course of study developing the mind in the various principal branches of knowledge. As a matter of course these institutions must be free from all governmental or other influence and must furnish free space for every philosophical or other line of thought so far as it moves within scientific bounds. These free Universities moreover would not only benefit the unlearned callings but also the learned professions for which they would form an admirable and really indispensably necessary preparation.
3:16: Your enemies the Manchester men would disagree wouldn’t they?
LB: The theory of the Manchester men would withdraw anything which does not relate to the protection of property from the charge of the state and to private activity but how little it has proved in respect to the important matter of popular education is shown by England, the classic land of personal where the rudeness and want of culture of the ranks of the people have reached such a frightful state that at present the agitation for the introduction of compulsory school education after the continental and especially the German pattern has become overwhelming. On the peoples school depends the whole of the state and of humanity and whoever in a state could make sure of holding firmly in his hand a Ministry of education for 20 or 30 years might answer every possible change in that state in the direction of freedom and progress. By education every thing may be made of man and by the want of it every thing bad.
3:16: You argue for free education for all, even university education if they want it?
LB: Yes. As regards the education or instruction itself it need scarcely be remarked in the face of the requirements so often and so pressingly made by all liberal parties and in accordance with the principles established by us, that general obligatory and gratuitous instruction in national schools until the attainment of a certain age is the least that can be demanded in this respect, whilst the higher educational institutions must at least be open gratuitously for all those who are willing to make use of them.
3:16: And science is a key subject for you?
LB: That the fostering of science as such must also form one of the principal tasks of the state and especially of the state of the future is a matter of course although this must be effected in a different way than by our existing Universities and higher educational institutions which have gradually fallen from their former elevation as nurseries of free science and become more or less mere training institutions for the learned professions and especially for future compliant tools of the mechanism of government.
3:16: And you think education needs to continue even into adulthood too don’t you?
LB: It is not sufficient merely to care for education during the period of youth time and opportunity must also be given to the grown up man to continue his intellectual development and to take part at least to a certain extent in the great intellectual acquisitions of his time. This applies especially to the true working classes who after the termination of their school time under present circumstances usually escape entirely from the course of culture of their time and allow the man to rise or sink almost completely.
3:16: And for you education is broader than just intellectual education isn’t it?
LB: The attention of the state ought to be devoted not only to the intellectual but also to the bodily education of those who belong to it and to the protection of the rising generation from premature crippling of the body. Nothing but social education and governmental supervision can help us. After all Richard, it is a statistically proved and truly horrible fact that the duration of life in the lower ranks of society especially the working classes is generally only half or two thirds of that which the higher ranks enjoy so that by the present condition of society the former are cheated out of nearly half their normal life.
3:16: Are you a feminist?
LB: It is a fact historically proved that the estimation of and respect for woman in human society have increased in the same proportion that the degree of general culture and good manners has been elevated. In like manner in the present day we find that the position of woman is the more creditable the higher the degree of culture in the nation whilst among savage tribes she still occupies that lowest grade as the slave and beast of burden of the stronger sex which was quite universally assigned to her at the dawn of civilization and among half civilized peoples. So Richard, we men, as Radenhausen well says, must accustom ourselves to regard and treat the female half of mankind not as agents for the service and gratification of the men but as our equals. At any rate, as Radenhausen well says, the female half has a right to demand permission to try its capabilities for the advancement of humanity in every branch of activity and that the path to culture which stands open to the male half should also be opened to it.
If this male half or the so-called stronger sex fears this competition and seeks to get rid of it by despotic regulations this is the best proof that in reality woman and her capabilities of performance are more highly estimated than would generally appear and that this sex cannot resolve to resign the cherished habit of ruling and oppressing. The position of mitigated slavery which woman even now generally occupies with respect to man is merely a residue from that barbarous period when the stronger man harnessed the weaker woman to the plough in spite of her less bodily powers and set her to perform all labours of the most difficult and humiliating kind whilst he himself reposed upon his bearskin. And when the Europeans of the present day exclude women from so many branches of useful activity on the plea that their nature is not adapted for them this logic resembles the well known slave law which denies to slaves and oppressed people generally the capacity for freedom and in accordance with this also in the interest of the oppressor freedom itself.
How many women pine away or sometimes bodily sometimes intellectually both in and out of wedlock under the deadening of a constant idleness which is imposed upon them by imaginary regard for their position or by sloth and inaction to happy family life. The pure twilight of home so often referred to in which alone true womanhood is supposed to thrive and which has been so keenly ridiculed by Fanny Lewald is merely a great superstition and is an anachronism in our time of universal striving after freedom and light. If it were not so the pure twilight of home in combination with true womanhood would be best found in the harems of Turkish magnates Think about it Richard. Shall genius and intelligence become no consequence merely because they happen to have up their abode in a female brain? Shall talents remain undeveloped merely because a woman have them and shall the impulse to activity be allowed to waste without benefit to mankind because they do not appear in the form of a man? History teaches us incontestably that there have been among women savants, artists, politicians and so on as great as among men and if their number is small in comparison with the men this is due in part to the natural destination of woman to a more limited sphere of activity and in part to the want of freedom and equality as also of the necessary previous cultivation.
3:16: Is marriage something a socialist should support?
LB: Marriage - although it occurs also in animals , for example, the Storks - is nevertheless in its present form and conception essentially a product of human culture. It is therefore nothing rigid and unalterable, nothing given once for all by nature but must change and advance with the increase of culture. For our marriage of the present day this is all the more necessary as in it the old principles of compulsion which formerly ruled in state church and society are still fully represented.
3:16: Does Darwinism have any input to your thinking here?
LB: Well, Darwin has already recognized what he calls sexual selection as a mainspring of progress in animals and Professor Häckel does not hesitate to declare on the strength of his investigations that the progress of the human race in history is in great part the consequence of the sexual which is developed to a far greater extent in man than in animals. But it cannot well be disputed that this peculiar element which has only been brought to light by Natural History can unfold its entire and most important efficacy fully and unobstructedly only when the union the sexes is really the consequence of a perfectly free choice and of a full mutual agreement with mutual liking and internal satisfaction. In contrast to this our present conventional and constrained marriage as is well known only too frequently presents mutual discords and incurable dissatisfaction of the most repulsive character which is most injurious to the progress of the race.
3:16: So socialist marriage is about consent and reciprocity?
LB: Yes. The only correct and tenable moral principle depends upon the relation of reciprocity. There is therefore no better guide to moral conduct than the old and well known proverb ‘What you would not have done to you that to others never do’. If we complete this proverb with the addition ‘Do to others as you would they should do to you’ and we have the entire code of virtue and morals in hand and indeed in a better and simpler form than could be furnished us by the thickest manuals of ethics or the quintessence of all the religious systems in the world.
3:16: Er, I think Christianity has that one Ludwig. So do you think we all have an innate sense of good and bad in us, that there’s a cosmic ethics in us expressed as our conscience?
LB: Are you kidding me Richard? The innate conscience or law of morals which so many regard as the true determining principle in the actions of men is nothing more than a great superstition, an infant school morality as the philosopher Schopenhauer so significantly expresses it .For the conscience is formed and developed only with the progressive knowledge of the duties which the individual has.
3:16: So you don’t think we all know what’s right and wrong?
LB: Moses the greatest teacher and leader of the Jewish people felt no stings of conscience when he allowed three thousand of his people to be cut to pieces as a propitiatory offering to the Lord but only feared that they would not be sufficient whilst nowadays such a proceeding would be regarded as inexpressibly horrible and brutal. The honoured David, the darling of all theologians, when he conquered the city of Rabbah brought forth the people that were therein and put them under saws and under harrows of iron and under axes of iron and made them pass through the brick kiln and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon.
The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Persians etc although belonging to the civilized nations of antiquity were not deterred by their conscience from burning their own children alive or burying living innocent men and the Inquisitors of the Middle ages and their associates of earlier and later times believed that they were only fulfilling their duty in burning about nine millions of people as witches and magicians in the course of eleven centuries and making so many other innocent people suffer under the most horrible tortures. When the Roman emperors visited the newly formed Christian communities with the bloodiest persecutions they believed that they were doing good and that their consciences were clear just as much as the later Christians themselves when after their doctrine had become victorious they revisited all these persecutions and outrages in the most ample measure upon those who thought differently from themselves.
The murderous wars of modern times also arising frequently from the most inconsiderable causes are generally waged by people who feel not the smallest scruple as to the terrible death and misery of so many thousands caused by them and who win by them fame, honour and consideration whilst in a future and happier time such proceedings will probably be regarded as the gravest moral crimes. Conscience is therefore nothing established and innate but rather something variable and acquired or an expression of human knowledge which advances with knowledge itself.
3:16: Wow. Ok. So how do you as a socialist understand morality?
LB: Morality may be defined as the law of mutual respect for the general and private equal rights of man for the purpose of securing general human happiness. In this accordance of the interests of the individual with the interests of the community or of all others therefore lies the whole great moral principle of the future. Let this accordance be once established and we have morality virtue and noble sentiments in profusion. If not these will be deficient in proportion as society falls short of this goal and no external or internal means, no religion, no moral preachers, no criminal laws will be able by any means permanently to make up for this deficiency. Public conscience is at the same time the conscience of the individual. This public conscience can only be the consequence of rational political and social conditions and of an education and culture of all founded on the principles of universal philanthropy.
3:16: And what’s the role of philosophy?
LB: The less man knows of history of nature of philosophy and so forth, the more - when he has once begun to meditate upon himself and the phenomena surrounding him - does he feel induced to believe in unknown supernatural and superhuman influences and to ascribe to them every thing that appears to him mysterious in the life of nature and of man. Hence the more religious a man is the less does he feel in himself the necessity for culture and knowledge and the ancient Hebrews therefore could not develop among them arts and sciences in the same way as the more free thinking Greeks because with them their God Jehovah supplied every thing. Nations commenced with the crudest superstitions.
3:16: Some will say that if we get rid of religion there’ll be no basis for morality and everything moral will be lost.
LB: That’s just rubbish. The most recent investigations of Rénan and others place it beyond a doubt that among the Aryan nations morality never was an integral or necessary ingredient in religion but that in their ancient religions only two elements are to be met with - namely the idea of God and the ritual. This is also the case with the priesthood among the Aryans whose original religious tendency was a decided pantheism whilst in opposition to this religious tendency of the Semites from which Christianity has proceeded was monotheism under the control of a powerful priesthood. In the whole Sanskrit language, the classical primitive language of the Aryan race of men, there is no single word which signifies ‘to create’ in the sense of the Semitic or Christian dogma.
Moreover as Goethe has already shown, the celebrated Mosaic moral precepts, the so called ten Commandments, were not upon the tables upon which Moses wrote the laws of the covenant which God made with his people. I’d draw your attention, Richard, to China. In China where people are as is well known very indifferent or in religions matters this fine proverb is current: ‘Religions various but reason is one and we are all brothers.’ The history of nearly all religions is filled with such horrible abominations massacres and boundless wickednesses of every kind that at the mere recollection of them the heart of a philanthropist seems to stand still and we turn with disgust and horror from a mental aberration which could produce such deeds.
This is why I say that education must be founded upon knowledge not upon faith and religion itself should be taught in the public schools only as religious history and as an objective or scientific exposition of the different religious systems prevailing among mankind. Any one who after such an education still experiences the need of a definite law or rule of faith may then attach himself to any religious sect that may seem good to him but cannot claim that the community should bear the cost of this special fancy.
As regards Christianity or the Paulinism which is falsely called Christianity it stands by its dogmatic portion or contents in such striking and irreconcilable nay absolutely absurd contradiction with all the acquisitions and principles of modern science that its future tragical fate can only be a question of time. But even its ethical contents or its moral principles are in no way essentially distinguished above those of other peoples and were equally well and in part better known to mankind even before its appearance. Not only in this respect but also in its supposed character as the world religion it is excelled by the much older and probably most widely diffused religious system in the world, the celebrated Buddhism, which recognizes neither the idea of a personal God nor that of a personal duration and nevertheless teaches an extremely pure amiable and even ascetic morality morality. The doctrine of Zoroaster or Zarathrustra also in 1800 years BC taught the principles of humanity and toleration for those of different modes of thinking in a manner and purity which were unknown to the Semitic religions and especially to Christianity.
3:16: And as you said at the beginning of the interview, its not just religion but philosophy too that needs to change.
LB: Just as the religions of the past have become out of date in our time so also in no less degree has the true or speculative philosophy which has unfortunately, especially in Germany, so long exerted an injurious influence upon the minds of men and one prejudicial to the true free spirit of inquiry. Its play with half clear, obscure or perfectly meaningless words or phrases has gradually caused it to be detested by the educated and the belief in its formulas and predictions has disappeared in the same measure that the spirit of inquiry has become clearer more thirsty for knowledge and more candid. We are now no longer inclined to take appearance for being, words for acts, or imagination for reality and have perceived that it is only in scientific observation and in facts that we can seek and find a firm footing for philosophical theories.
The ‘empty twaddle’, as Schopenhauer admirably designates that so-called dialectic method of the philosophers which was dominant and attained its climax in the great Hegel - that deluge of words poured over a desert of ideas as Helvetius so suitably described the results of the scholastic philosophy of the middle ages - is still far from being extinct but it no longer imposes upon us. We have looked behind the veil of the mystery and found nothing there except the effete skeleton of philosophical emptiness of spirit and thought clothed with the motley rags of a philosophical terminology or mode of expression. There is not now and never was or will be a possibility of enlarging human knowledge beyond experience or human philosophy beyond the conclusions drawn from experience.
The philosophical metaphysicians remind me of the proverb ‘From the sublime to the ridiculous!’ All deductions from the transcendental or from what flies beyond observation are illogical. There is no such thing as the so-called transcendental science nor are there any causeless causes, hence the search of the philosophers after a first or supreme cause is entirely futile. Causal connection or the relation of cause and effect has neither beginning nor end. The necessary consequence of a First cause is the irrational assumption equally contradictory to logic and observation that the history of existence must consist of two different separated parts, the first of which would be change without causality and the second change with causality.
Every thing in the world is necessarily and normally connected, an opinion the stability of which however we are in a position to demonstrate directly only in a number of cases in the actual world. Hence our knowledge is fragmentary and not only capable of but actually calling for improvement and completion whilst the philosophical error seeks to parade before us unlimited knowledge. We must therefore endeavour to form convictions which are to stand once and for all as philosophers and theologians usually do but such as may change and become improved with the advance of knowledge. Whoever does not recognize this and gives himself up once and for all to a belief which he regards as final truth, whether it be of a theological or philosophical kind, is of course incapable of accepting a conviction supported upon scientific grounds.
3:16: And yet so many will disagree with you. Do you really think philosophy has got to the bottom of the big questions now that it can base itself on scientific advances?
LB: Well Richard, as Bishop Berkeley said: ‘Few men think but all will have opinions.’ Hence the numerous distorted or condemnatory opinions expressed as to recent advances in science although the latter may be as clear as the sun and as indisputable as truth itself. Great philosophers have called death the fundamental cause of all philosophy. If this be correct the empirical or experimental philosophy of the present day has solved the greatest of philosophical enigmas and shown both logically and empirically that there is no death and that the great mystery of existence consists in perpetual and uninterrupted change.
Every thing is immortal and indestructible, the smallest worm as well as the most enormous of the celestial bodies, the sandgrain or the waterdrop, as well as the highest being in creation man and his thoughts. Only the forms in which being manifests itself are changing but Being itself remains eternally the same and imperishable. When we die we do not lose ourselves but only our personal consciousness or the casual form which our being, in itself eternal and imperishable, had assumed for a short time we live on in nature in our race, in our children, in our descendants, in our deeds, in our thoughts, in short in the entire material and psychical contribution which during our short personal existence we have furnished to the subsistence of mankind and of nature in general. Humanity, says Radenhausen, persists and flows on although the individual disappears after a short course of life but neither his life nor that of the waterdrop is lost. For just as the latter could not complete its circulation without dissolving or superinducing the combinations of other matters, so every man leaves the traces of his existence behind him in what he separated or brought into new combinations in the contribution to the culture treasure of humanity which is furnished by every human life from the least to the greatest.
‘Where are the dead?’ asks Schopenhauer and he answers ‘They are with us. In spite of death and corruption we are still all together.’ I agree with him Richard.
3:16: Wow that’s pretty cosmic. It sounds like the kind of thing an idealist might argue, not a materialist.
LB: Materialism and idealism are usually regarded as absolute opposites. Materialism is represented as a miserable, comfortless, hopeless, sad and empty theory only fit for hypochondriacs, misanthropes or pure rationalists whilst in opposition to this the so-called idealism professes to satisfy the higher intellectual and spiritual necessities of man and to raise him by a higher conception of the world and of life above the deficiencies and nothingnesses of this earthly life. In truth however this is so incorrect that the Materialism of Science may rather with perfect justice be described as the highest idealism of life.
The more we free ourselves from all delusive imaginations of a world above us and outside of us or of a so called Future, the more do we find ourselves naturally directed with all our forces and endeavours to the present or to the world in which we are living and feel the necessity of arranging this world and our life as beautifully and advantageously as possible - both for the individual and for the whole. Heaven and hell - those primæval bugbears of spiritual despotism - exist also for the materialist but he and finds them not as of old outside of man but him and shows that it depends solely upon man and his conduct whether he shall have a heaven or a upon earth.
3:16: So is the materialism of science the same as the materialism of life for you?
LB: Not at all Richard. The materialism of science and the materialism of life are things which differ toto coelo and which can be confounded with each other only by malevolence or incompetency. Whoever sacrifices his life to investigation, personal interest to the truth and the force of his activity to the improvement of the lot of humanity has not to run after sensual enjoyments and is in reality a far greater idealist than those who find in their idealism mean of obtaining great offices, fat livings, rich salaries and brilliant distinctions. All this shows that materialism and idealism are not, as so many suppose, born enemies but that at the bottom they are only different expressions for one and the same thing. In theory materialism far exceeds the old idealistic philosophy in ideal value inasmuch as it does not, like the latter, assume a multitude of observational facts as inexplicable and therefore deduce them from supernatural or innate causes but it goes to the bottom of things and seeks to embrace their most intimate and final connection.
In practice it exceeds all other systems and conceptions of the universe by setting the ideal world within us in place of the ideal world without us and endeavours to guide it towards realization No other philosophy has ever stood like this in the closest connection with life itself and the best touchstone of its value and correctness will be found in the influence which it has already exerted and will yet exert upon life and its forms.
3:16: And finally can you recommend 5 books that will take us further into your philosophical world?
Other Interviews: Lange, Newton, Berkeley, Hobbes, Locke, Cudworth, Hume, Leibniz, Leporin Erxleben, Fichte, Schiller, Herder, Kierkegaard, Schelling, Kant, Dilthey, Marx, Descartes, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche
About the Author
Richard Marshall is still biding his time.