Marcel Journet as Klingsor (1914)
As we have seen, Ilyenkov, the Soviet Marxist, fell under evil curse of Spinoza. Parsifal might as well have chosen Klingsor as his guide to the Grail. Ilyenkov must have known that there is no such thing as Marxism - only Spinozism. Without room for contingency man has to understand necessity and subject himself to it. And the materialist directional telos is the necessity.
Hegel had turned thought into an externality that imposed itself upon the individual. Truth existed outside and beyond mankind and transcended the act of thinking or experience. Marx did not so much turn Hegel on his head as he famously claimed, but rather assumed the ‘intelligent materialism’ that Hegel had already attained.
Yes - there was always something strange in Marx’s upturning assertion.
The truth is that Marx espoused Spinozism, the denial of human will and creativity. Marx took much from Hegel, but Hegel too was a Spinozist, inheriting the concept of spirit from Judaism.
For Hegel everything begins with the realisation that there is something exceptional and inescapable in Spinoza’s philosophy. ‘Du hast entweder den Spinozismus oder keine Philosophie’ - you have either Spinozism or no philosophy at all.
When Marx ‘turned Hegel on this head’, he was in reality ‘uprighting’ Spinoza, following Fichte's inversion.
And Samuel Taylor Coleridge had long ago known what was lost with Spinozism. The Sage of Highgate recognised the anti-humanism of Spinoza early on.
There was the denial of subjectivity, creativity and deviation, which meant that all one can do is understand the system, not influence it. To Spinozists like Marx and Engels, the answer to ‘What am I?’ is - ‘you are what you have to be’.
The path to success for the Spinozist boils down to this - to maximise your potential, you must understand the motivations of others and work the system. In his politics, Spinoza had learned much from Machiavelli and Sarpi.
Spinoza described as Substance his concept of God, or the One, Ein Sof. Subjectivity is subsumed within substance, never allowing for clear separation of the two.
This was the reason why Martin Buber said that Spinoza left no room for dialogue with God.1 Spinoza, to whom the knowledge of God was everything, nevertheless deprived man of an essential element of religious reality: the ‘approachability’ of God, as Buber called it, his ‘dialogue’ relation with God.
The Substance, the hypostasis, the underlying reality, is Spinoza’s great and unquestioned presupposition. Spinoza began his Ethics with definitions, starting with the ‘cause of itself’ or causa sui. Definition 3 says: ‘By substance I mean that which is in itself and is conceived through itself; that is, that the conception of which does not require the conception of another thing from which it has to be formed.’2
Coleridge lamented that Spinoza’s ‘error consisted not so much in what he affirms, as in what he has omitted to affirm or rashly denied . . . that he saw God in the ground only and exclusively, in his Might alone and his essential Wisdom, and not likewise in his moral, intellectual, existential and personal Godhead’.3 In short, the Ethics lacked the theoretical basis for an ethics.
If like Spinoza, I had contemplated God as the infinite Substance (Substantia Unica) as the incomprehensible mindless, lifeless, formless Substans of all Mind, Life and Form—there would be for me neither Good nor Evil – Yet Pain, & Misery would be—& would be hopeless.4
And the amorality faced by all is an interminable cycle of debt without hope of an end, sustained as Spinozist necessity.
Dante had described the place where hope had been abandoned. ‘Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate’, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’ He placed sodomites and usurers in the same circle of Hell, which prompted Ezra Pound to observe that ‘usury and sodomy, the Church condemned as a pair, to one hell, the same for one reason, namely that they are both against natural increase’.5 Spinoza had indeed ‘brought whores for Eleusis’, the painted faces of sterility and decay.
1 See D. Wertheim, Salvation Through Spinoza: A Study of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany, Leiden, Brill, p105
2 B. Spinoza, The Ethics in The Essential Spinoza, ed. M. L. Morgan, trans, S. Shirley, Hackett, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 2006, p.4
3 S. T. Coleridge, Shorter Works and Fragments. Ed. H. J. Jackson and J. R. de J. Jackson. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1995, p.609
4 S. T. Coleridge, Notebooks. Ed. Kathleen Coburn, Merton Christensen, and Anthony Harding. 5 vols. Princeton and London: Princeton University Press and Routledge, 1957-2002, 5: 6659
5 E. Pound, Social Credit: an Impact, Peter Russel, London, 1959, p.13
© John Dunn.