Revolutions From Above & Below-Learning From the 18th Century

Karl Barth wrote analytically about 18th century Europe providing context for the place of theology in social history. Following is a quote from his work on Protestant Thought. He illuminates the forms of absolute government that evolved in the era. Today the forms of corporatism, Plutocracy, communism, socialism and networking globally have arisen to join the pervasive, absolute forms of governance and beingness comprising in part social self-perceptions within a contemporary context.
This work of Barth’s published in 1959 is now in the public domain
“The Empire was the concrete veto on any kind of political absolutism. It represented imperfectly enough, but still, it did represent, while spanning the oppositions of higher and lower in the individual political units a third factor, which excluded encroachments within these orders. That is why it was the Holy Roman Empire. So the end of the Empire necessarily meant the beginning of absolutism. That was shown both in the separation, in 1648, of the aristocratic republics of Switzerland from the Empire, and in the
German principalities.
The beginning of absolutism in France also coincides with the practical end of the Empire in Germany. The old French kingdom had corresponded exactly to the German Empire, with its supreme authority both respecting and guaranteeing the existing distances and competences and relationships in a political world with manifold forms. With the extinction of the imperial ideal
this French kingdom also came to an end. Only after that was a
monarch like Louis XIV possible. He was one type of the politically
absolute man. Politically, absolutism means the determination of law
by that class in the state which in contrast to the others possesses the effective power.
The first type of this absolutism was created when the highest class after the effective elimination of the emperor, namely, that of the princes or the city oligarchs, used their actual power to identify with their own will the law of the political unit which had been entrusted to their leadership. When the king, against the back- ground of this identification, calls himself king c by the grace of God’, no personal religious uprightness or humility which may reside in this kind of confession regarding the origin of his office can alter the fact that he is in effect made to be like God. ‘By the grace of God’ should mean that he bears the power in common submission with the people before a power which is superior to them both, and therefore that he also recognizes the rights of the people. The concrete form of that
superior power had been the Empire. With its fall the prince became
absolute and the people were deprived of their rights, while ‘by the
grace of God’ simply masked the prince’s resemblance to God. That is
the meaning of Louis XIV’s famous remark ”Vital c’est mol’. It is the
declaration of the prince, needing no other grounds than those of his
actual power to assume the status of law, that right in the state, and
the freedom guaranteed by it, are the right established by me, and the
freedom guaranteed by me. The first party to suffer from this was the
nobility. It was against their power, that is, against their ancient good right, that the new ‘revolution from above’ which now started was first directed. This was the meaning of the home policy of Richelieu, of Mazarin and of Louis XIV, and in Germany, in a specially classic form, of the Great Elector of Brandenburg.
Besides this, of course, princely absolutism struck also at the middle
classes, who had been steadily rising since the end of the Middle Ages,
and at the peasants, who in the sixteenth century had demanded their
rights in vain the first serious sign of the decay of the imperial idea.
But it is significant in every respect that there could also on occasion be manifested a certain agreement, a deep community of interests between the absolute prince and the citizens, the class which nourished the rest of society. It is at any rate a fact that this age saw not only the rise of the princes but also though on a different plane, that of economics and education the rise of the citizens on an unprecedented scale. For reasons of state the princes conceived the idea of a productive bourgeois class . . . and gradually brought them up.’ 1 Why did the absolute prince need the power of the unitary state for whose sake he had first to destroy the rights of the nobility? The first answer can only be that he needed this power because wishing to be an absolute prince, and having in effect no emperor over him he needed more power. He needed the unitary state, and in it a relatively prosperous bourgeoisie which could provide a regular flow of money to him. He needed money because he needed a standing army which was always
at his disposal. He needed the army because his power was ‘territorial’., as we now say, with other territories alongside it. The existence of other territories openly contradicts the idea of an absolute prince, but this state of affairs could be improved by inheritance, by marriage, by acquisition an( j the ultima ratio by wars of conquest. And because the other means had their strict limitations, wars of conquest were the natural method.
War became, therefore, a latent principle. It is not surprising that
open war again and again broke out. What is surprising is that it did
i Propylaen-Weltgeschichte, 6, p. 277.
not happen more frequently. Absolute politics of this kind are out-
wardly dynastic, cabinet politics; but by an inward necessity, sooner
or later they lead to a policy of conquest. This is the way the securing of internal power, that is, a unitary state by revolution from above, with a view to external power which was followed by the king of France in the eighteenth century, as well as by the aristocrats of Berne and the great and petty potentates of Germany, among whom the emperor was now only one among the rest, later to be called logically, though absurdly emperor of Austria. Only the clever English perhaps one of the few nations really gifted politically foresaw in time the folly of this development, though they were just as penetrated by the spirit of absolutism as the rest, and introduced checks which spared them the catastrophe to which the system by its nature must lead.
This political absolutism from above has, as is known, two variants.
They have in fact crossed and mingled in many ways; their roots are
one, but they may be clearly distinguished. The principle ‘through
power to power’ had of course also a non-military aspect. This could
consist in the princely display of splendour and pomp at which Louis
XIV was so inventive, even creative, setting a baleful example which
was widely followed. The name of Versailles has thrice had great
historical significance resulting in grave consequences. The first time
it was as the prototype and symbol of a princely attitude to life and
form of life, based on unqualified power. From this life there flowed a
brilliance, like the glory of a god, into architecture, the gardens and
parks, the decoration in the houses, into comforts and enjoyments of
every kind, but above all into the transitory but all the more intoxicating splendour of the festivities. Far beyond the boundaries of France there arose small and miniature imitations of Versailles whose princely and noble inhabitants attempted, with more or less luck and dignity and taste, to emulate Louis XIV.
After his death the Regent Philip of Orleans, then Louis’ grandson,
Louis XV, in Germany Augustus the Strong of Saxony, Eberhard
Ludwig, Karl Alexander, and Karl Eugen of Wurtemberg, Max
Emanuel and Karl Theodor of Bavaria, Ludwig IX of Hesse, and
many others, were absolute princes of this kind. The notorious immor-
ality, even debauchery, the just as notorious financial transactions, and the scandalous arbitrariness of justice at all these courts, was perhaps not the necessary, but as has happened in all similar phenomena in history the practical, consequence of the representation which one
thought to be owing and that not without some logic to the
conception of the prince by divine right.
The idea inevitably presupposed great demands upon the economy
of the country, which were made with an astonishing unconcern not
to speak of the sons of Hesse and Brunswick who were sold out of hand
to America! And ironically enough the command was in fact often not
in the hands of its true possessor, but largely and for all to see in those of a woman sometimes, admittedly, in those of a woman far from
unfitted for such an office, but only in a derivative sense can her rule ever have been described as by the grace of God 9 . But all these things cannot and must not blind us to the tremendous stimulus imparted to economic and artistic life by the fantastic burgeoning of absolutism.
Neither must we forget that the luxury these potentates cultivated,
though so dubious in many respects, acted in practice as a safety valve
and corrective against the possibility of a universal state of war, which should really have been the logical consequence of the general principle ‘through power to power 3 and of dynastic cabinet politics.
If it had not been for the Sun-king’s notion of the unfolding of power and the relative enervation which was involved herein, Louis himself and all the other God-kings might well with the absolute power they had arrogated have reduced Europe to even greater disasters than those they did in fact cause. Lastly it should be added that anyone who failed to sense not only the pathos imparted by lavishness of ideas, space and materials, but the underlying, unending and truly insatiable yearning in the midst of sensual delight which emanates from every line and form of the art of the age would be guilty of badly misunderstanding those artistic and architectural monuments of that time which still hold a meaning for us. It is this eternal yearning which is the style’s inmost beauty, a beauty peculiarly moving for all the horror which is sometimes apt to seize the beholder.
Besides this kind of political absolutism there was another, going by
the name of enlightened absolutism. It is possible for the ‘through
power to power’ principle to manifest itself in depth rather than in
extent, rationally rather than aesthetically. In that case it takes the
form of experiments in social reform in the technical advance of
civilization, in agriculture, industry and in the economic sphere in
general, in health measures and policies designed to benefit the population as a whole. There are attempts to improve the state of the law,
but also to advance the arts and sciences, to raise the general standard of education in short all sorts of measures tending to the so-called ‘welfare’ of the subjects of the state. In chastising a Jew, Frederick William I says: ‘You should love me rather than fear me, love me, I say! ‘ As Frederick the Great’s famous remark shows, the absolute
monarch can also cherish the wish to be e the first servant of the state*.
*It is our duty to sacrifice ourselves for the public good’ this was a mot of Louis XIV already, and as proof that it was not just a bon mot one might point to the extensive official activities in the cultural field of his minister Jean Baptiste Colbert, who is too easily overlooked beside the more eye-catching figures of a Louvois or of the various great ladies of Louis’ court. Circumstances permitting the absolute monarch might then, in startling contrast to his princely contemporaries, assume the rough aspect of a king of ancient Rome or Sparta, as did Frederick William I of Prussia, or like Joseph II epitomize affability at all costs and an idealism verging upon folly; or, as in Joseph Emmerich, elector of Mayence, he might take the astonishing form of a wise prince of an ecclesiastical state, at once open-minded enough to accept progress in every form; or, finally, as with Frederick the Great he might be that almost legendary figure, the ‘Sage of Sans Souci’ seeming to have his whole existence centred around a philosophy stripped of illusion yet rigid upon certain moral points, its purpose being to enable him to be all the more detached in attending to the business of providing, maintaining and furthering law, order and progress among the people he happened to be governing. Sarastro, Mozart’s strange character in The Magic Flute, combines elements from all these figures.
And we need only be reminded of Karl August of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, the sovereign who was served by Goethe, to see how sometimes the entire zest for life of the one kind of prince could be reconciled with the earnest zeal of the second. It is needless to state that this second interpretation of the art of kingship at this time and the achievements which sprang from it command great respect. But let us not forget that although there may be absolutists in the performing of good they are absolutists for all that. It is thus with the ‘enlightened’ absolutism of which we have been speaking.
We must appreciate this particularly in the classic case of Frederick
the Great. In the preface to his Histoire de mon temps he wrote in re-
flective mood: ‘I trust that posterity will do me justice and understand how to distinguish the king in me from the philosopher, the decent from the political man.’ Indeed: as king he is no less a ‘soldier king’ than his father, and no less a dynastic cabinet politician than Louis XIV, although and in that he wants to be king and philosopher and a decent man simultaneously.
Temper as one may Lessing’s harsh judgment that the Prussia of Frederick the Great was ‘the most slavish country in Europe‘ and that ‘Berlin freedom* consisted solely in the right c to hawk as many anti-religious imbecilities as one wishes’, there
is still no escaping the fact that the enlightenment which Frederick
desired had absolutely nothing to do with freedom as freedom of the
press, for example, it was a hollow pretence, and it was a foregone conclusion that freedom was not applied to the army or anything con-
nected with the army, e.g. the administration of justice in the army.
There is no blinking the fact, either, that Frederick’s state had to be a welfare state a Frederick naturally sees farther than the usual run of despots in order to be precisely as welfare state a state worshipping power, an absolute state. The fact remains that the measure of wisdom and rectitude with which the king happened to be endowed, together with the limitations imposed upon these qualities by his highly individual character, his taste and his whims limitations common to every mortal had the significance of destiny for his people, his country and for every individual within his realms a destiny which like God could bless or punish, might cherish or destroy, and could do so without let of appeal to any higher law.
Lessing certainly had nothing to thank King Frederick for, nor did his loyal subject Immanuel Kant, nor did Leonhard Euler, and they were all misjudged for reasons which they and all the people they lived among had to accept as if these reasons represented the impenetrable will of God. The things he found uninteresting just didn’t interest him, and the things he didn’t like he just didn’t like. The remark about e the first servant of the state 5 is good, but what practical significance has it if this very first servant is alone from first to last in decreeing every policy of state, if every counsellor, be wise as he may, must ever fear him like a slave? The same might equally be said of Joseph II and his entirely well-intentioned and frequently beneficial innovations. He did much for his people and had in mind to do much more. But once again the highly personal limits of his circumspection and temperament were, like those of fate, the limits of the goodness and usefulness of the things his radicalism had created.
His achievements stood with him. It was inevitable that with him they
should also fall to make way for the will of his equally absolutist
successor, which chanced to have different objects. In short ‘en-
lightened’ absolutism also consisted essentially in ‘revolution from
above 9 , and could provide no substitute for what the imperial idea had once stood for, or had been intended to stand for: the policy, which not only exercises dominion, but bestows freedom, which not only dispenses favours, but establishes justice, and establishes it by means of justice, a policy whereby the best possible is done for the people with the people, and therefore as a matter of principle just as much through the people as through the king; a policy therefore in whose eyes as a
matter of principle no person is merely an object; again, a policy subject not only to an abstract responsibility, but to a concrete one a policy therefore which might well deserve the title, ‘by the grace of God’. Those who do not happen to be in power, who are subjected to an absolute monarch, whether he be enlightened or unenlightened, are bound to look upon him with that rather distant and nervous awe exemplified in the form of the great prayer of the Church at Basle to be found in the liturgy of 1752, a prayer to be offered for ‘the wise and worshipful first citizens, counsellors, judges and officials of our Christian town and district of Basle 3 : ‘Guide them, O Lord, with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, with good counsel and courage, with the knowledge and fear of thy holy name, that in their care we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all honour and righteousness.
 It is of course possible to question whether that other policy, pursued in the Middle Ages in the name of the imperial ideal, ever became a reality anywhere. But there was at least a chance that it might be realized while it was still at least an active point of reference (question-able in itself but at least fairly well-defined) within the framework of the imperial ideal. It was when this fell away that the realization of such a policy became impossible. For when the prince’s power was made absolute, a step which brought with it the death of the imperial ideal, the prerequisite of such a policy, the very notion of a concrete responsibility, of a higher authority, was removed also, and in its place there arose the state without a master, or alternatively the state governed by an arbitrary master, beneath whose sway, even if he were the best of all possible monarchs, justice was a matter of pure chance.
We have taken the one kind of political absolutist, the absolute
prince, as the first for discussion. The second kind, his perfectly legitimate brother, his alter ego, following in his footsteps as inevitably as the darkness following the light, as the thunder following the lightning, is the absolute revolutionary or perhaps it would be better to say, since his predecessor was already a revolutionary the revolutionary from below, the representative of the lower class, who conceiving those above him to have injured him in his rights, and even to have deprived him of them, takes steps to defend himself by snatching the power lying in the hands of the governing princes in order that he might now determine without let of appeal what is right and just, because he in his turn has the power in his hands. The rSles are reversed. Whereas before it had been the prince who had declared himself to be identical with the state, it was now the people, the ‘nation’, as it at this time began to be called, who assumed the title by means of a simple inversion of
Louis XIV’s dictum. This happened true to type in Paris on the 17th
June, 1789. The representatives of the so-called third estate, who were,
be it remembered, the delegates of that section of the population of
France which was in the overwhelming majority, formed themselves
into a ‘National Assembly 9 and three days later declared with a collective oath, that they were determined in the teeth of all opposition
never to disband until they had given the state a new constitution.
Everything that happened afterwards, up to the execution of Louis
XVI and beyond, was a direct result of this event. Its inner logic is,
however, as follows. (We shall restrict ourselves in the following to the two classic revolutionary documents, the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America of June 1776 and the Statement of Human and Civil Rights ratified by the French National Assembly in August 1789). According to the revolutionary doctrine there exists a self-evident truth which can and must be recognized and announced en presence et sous les auspices de verre supreme:
1. All men are equal, i.e. created with equal rights (Am.), or
alternatively (as in the Fr.), born with equal rights.
2. These equal rights are of nature, inalienable, sacred (Fr.), endowed by their creator (Am.).
3. Their names are freedom, property, security and the right to
protect oneself from violence (Fr.) or: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Am.). The French statement goes on to make a special point of saying that freedom consists in being able to do anything which does not harm anybody and is not as such forbidden by law. And it also considers the right to property important enough to describe it in a special last article as inviolable et sacral
4. It is in order to protect these rights that governments are instituted among men (Am.). Le but de toute association publique est la conservation des droits . . . de I’homme (Fr.).
5. Governments derive their just authority from the consent of the
governed. Le principe de toute souverainite’ reside essentiellement dans la nation. All authority exercised by individuals or corporate bodies stems expressly from the people (en imane expresstmenf).
6. The law is V expression de la volonte finale so all must have a part in making it, all are equal in its eyes and every office and honour for which it provides are as a matter of principle open to all.
7. Whenever a form of government becomes injurious to the aims
of the state, i.e. to the upholding of the rights aforementioned it is the people’s right to remove it and replace it by a government more conducive to their safety and happiness. It will be advisable not to proceed too
hastily in such an event, but once it has become plain that a government is seeking to establish absolute despotism it is not only the citizen’s right but his duty to free himself of its yoke.
The subtle differences of emphasis revealed by a comparison of these
two documents are of considerable interest: the French version is
clearly distinctive by virtue of the fact that, apart from the mention
of the Stre supreme in the preamble, the theological note has entirely
disappeared, together with the implicit notion still to be found in the
American document that at least in the beginning there could have
been a ‘government among men’ that was not created by the will of
the people* a notion that the revolution itself was not only the exercising of a right, but something like the fulfilment of a duty; that this right and duty was of a transitory nature, and that while the authority of a government might rest upon the consent of a people, this was not quite the same thing as the people’s will. In contrast to this the French statement is explicit in taking the state to be an association, its sovereignty to be the sovereignty of the nation as a whole, and the authority of its laws to be contained in the will of all, i.e. in the generality of the individual possessors of the human rights. The Calvinism gone to seed of the American document still distinguishes itself favourably from the Catholicism gone to seed of the French one. But these fine variations of meaning only reveal the sources and aims common to both versions.
They both think of the state in terms of the individual, or the sum of
the individuals forming a nation. Both of them show that those who
drew them up imagine that they were standing before an ultimate
reality, and indeed before a reality beyond which no man would ever
see. Face to face with the supreme Being, or self-evidently, man knows
according to both documents that he has a right to life, liberty, property and so on. For the sake of these universal rights it is necessary to have a state, and this state comes into being and subsists by virtue of general recognition of these universal rights, and in case of need, should it be found that this right is in effect being suppressed, by the strength of the majority it is actively called into being. It is this which forms the revolution. Such was the line of thought upon which the third estate in 1789 based its declaration that it was identical with the ‘nation ‘, and resolved come what might to undertake the transformation of the state.
This then is the essentially unanimous confession of faith of the
second kind of absolutist in politics, diametrically opposed to the first kind, the enlightened or unenlightened princely absolutist. Diametrically opposed? Indeed he is, and yet he is himself confined within
the same vicious circle. The Declaration des droits de L’homme in the form in which it was first printed and sold in Paris in 1789, bears over its title a picture of the radiant eye of God, enclosed within the usual triangle, which even here calls to mind the Trinity. At the foot of the page, admittedly, there are to be found the words, Uozil supreme de la raison qui vient de dissiper Us nuages qui V obscurcissaient. But beneath the title there is the ingenious symbol of a snake biting its own tail. The snake, unfortunately, is not explained: but it can hardly have any other meaning but that the time was ripe for doing the same as the princely absolutist had done though in reverse: Uetat c’est moi! That section of society which holds the power (or that which at the moment is striving to acquire it) determines according to its own particular standards what is right for society as a whole. He knows what is right! Why shouldn’t he? And why, if he knows, shouldn’t he determine for the whole? He needs only to overcome his diffidence to place his conception of freedom, life, property, etc., on the absolute plane with the greatest of ease: and what is there then left to him but to place his will also on a level with them? All this the ancien regime had also done, the only difference being that it employed the phrase ‘by the grace of God 9,
whereas the revolutionary spoke rather more badly of the Creator, or
simply maintained that everything relating to the subject was natural,
inviolable, sacred and self-evident. Thus on both sides the same thing
happens : the same usurpation and entry into the same vicious circle.
There are as we saw fine distinctions of attitude also within this new
kind of absolutism; it is possible within the revolution from below to
adhere more to the conservative or more to the radical side. It is possible to place the individual as such, who forms the state, more in the centre of things, or the nation which unites within itself all individuals: this means that there will now be a liberal movement with a nationalist movement as its antagonist, and a liberal-nationalist movement at any point between the two. In short, the nineteenth century can now begin.
Occasionally, as in the time of the restoration, and as was perhaps
inevitable in any monarchy it has also been known to happen in a
modern republic a feeling of repugnance against the whole state of
things created by the French Revolution, a romantic nostalgia for
monarchical absolutism and for the glorious days before 1789 might
spring to life and begin to take effect over against both liberalism and nationalism, and in their efforts to combat this reactionary tendency both the liberals and the nationalists would find themselves compelled to invoke ever more and anew the exalted spirit of 1776 and 1789, and oppose reaction by being themselves reactionary. And so one way or
the other, whether people prefer the ‘Marseillaise’ or the ‘March of
Hohenfriedberg’, or even if they wish to combine both in one anthem,
the snake is for ever biting its own tail. One way or another, either as individuals or, taken collectively, as a nation, the men who assume
that they have ‘rights’ and experience the desire to assert them by
violence stand, almost like God, very much alone, thrown upon them-
selves in a way for which, with due regard for the imperfections of the
human state, there was never any true necessity. The empire, it is true,
was a concrete political authority, but its authority was higher than
the state, and therefore had once made the absolute state impossible in
any form; again, it had once in spite of all its political ambiguity not been completely without eschatological significance, drawing attention to the existence of a law that neither princes nor peoples could give themselves, and that therefore they could not play off one 1 against the other; all this, however, is completely foreign to the political world of the eighteenth century. Has man, either as a prince or as man generally, really such a right as the political absolutist thinks he is justified in assuming, whether he tends to the left or the right? Is it really ‘right* which they seize in each particular case? Does not right cease to be right whenever it is seized ? Is not right possible only in a relationship which presupposes peace and excludes the thought of revolution because its basis is a commandment? Is it not this relationship which alone forms the basis for distinguishing the bearer of office just as it alone forms the basis for the equality of all men? It is of course a relationship which, when destroyed, makes revolution and counterrevolution an absolute necessity, because when it is destroyed everything is bound to become absolute and abstract, and all things fall
together like a pile of skittles. It was in fact the destruction of this relationship in the eighteenth century which made inevitable the
appearance of the two kinds of political absolutism, the appearance,
that is, of the possibility of taking the law into one’s own hand and
making the state omnipotent. The first kind and the last! And what is
more the consternation and the lamentings of the legitimists were
very much misplaced the second kind was brought about by the first.
For political man as he appeared upon the scene in 1789 had been the
same man for a long time before, albeit in a different guise. The whole
century in fact thought as he did; and so did even the circles which were to fall victim to the revolution. The tyrant will secretly always be a conspirator against himself. If this is not realized the lightning outbreak of this upheaval and its tremendous repercussions throughout Europewill never be understood. By virtue of the same fiction of the contract
which constitutes the state whereby the kings of Europe had justified
their rule, they now found that rule had been snatched from them
again. They themselves, as we saw, had encouraged the growth of
the bourgeois, not because they loved him, but because they needed
him. And now he was there, just as they had wanted him and shaped
him to be, except that at this point he suddenly found that he could
do with a little more of the liberte, propritte, happiness, etc., which the others accorded themselves in such generous measure more than the
others were in fact ready to grant him and except for the fact that
the bourgeois now suddenly discovered that he was in the majority, and
that he had only to reach out and seize the power to achieve what he
wanted forthwith. Upon which, of course, it became immediately
apparent that he who invokes death to tyrants is also always some-
thing of a tyrant himself and will reveal himself to be one soon enough.
To show not only the connexion, but the essential unity of the things
we have been discussing it will be significant if in conclusion we cast a glance at the political philosophy which first of all nourished the
princely absolutist and then provided an equal delight to the palate of
the bourgeois. It was truly not without good cause that their tastes were similar. It is the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, which stems, it is true, from well back in the seventeenth, but is in effect standard for the whole of the eighteenth century. According to his teaching in de cive part of Leviathan the significance of the state is as follows: the ultimate reality to be reckoned with in man is his instinct to preserve himself and enjoy his life accordingly. He follows this instinct in everything he does, and he is perfectly right to do so. Nature has in actual fact given to all men the same claim to all things, the only restraining factor being that to bring this instinct into play indiscriminately would benefit no one, as its necessary consequence would be universal war. Reason, therefore, backed by the fear of death and the desire for rest, will counsel man to adopt self-imposed restrictions. Thus subjective right in itself seeks an objective kind of right, which is created by way of a transference of law (translatio iuris). Agreement is reached and each one of the parties transfers a part of his rights to the state.
The state, however, is a persona civilis, representing the unity of the
general will and possessing power over all: persona una, unius voluntas ex pactis plurium hominum pro voluntate habenda est ipsorum omnium. In return this single person affords all men protection, and with it promises to each his own: Suum cuique! and in so doing provides the first possibility for all to live a truly human life. Who is this single person? According to Hobbes he can just as easily be represented by monarchy as by an
aristocracy or a democracy. (His personal choice was for a monarchy.)
The only essential thing is that he should be understood as being one
person, whose will is law subject to no condition, and who is alone in
determining and sanctioning what is good and what is bad. There
exists nothing either good or bad in itself apart from the state, but the public law is the citizen’s conscience, just as originally it emerged thence. Free thought exists only in respect to the Church, i.e. in respect to the question that remains of the inevitable fear of the unseen powers. But, while the subject is permitted to adopt what attitude he pleases to the Church, there is a fear of invisible powers which is officially sanctioned by the state, and from which, as from the faith which is right in all circumstances, it is superstitious to deviate from which to deviate would not only mean superstition, but revolution, and which therefore cannot be tolerated. Thus speaks Hobbes.
It is usual in this context to make mention of John Locke’s Two
Treatises on Civil Government (1690). But his political philosophy would seem to be of less significance than Hobbes’, because in it the
philosophy of revolution from below, the doctrine that force has its
source in the people, already preponderates and makes his work one-
sided. Hobbes’ political philosophy is great by virtue of the fact that it rises above this antithesis and is therefore capable of presenting a comprehensive view of the ideology of politics obtaining in his time.
Hobbes’ train of thought leads like a corridor to princely or to
bourgeois absolutism, to the arrogation of God-like powers in politics
by the individual or by the community, as Hobbes himself says: to the
omnipotent monarchy or to the omnipotent republic. Either way it is
essentially the same process. In actual fact the eighteenth century
took both courses, and it is this which is characteristic for the political experience it gathered.
We have considered the political problem presented by the eighteenth century in particular detail because it is from the political angle that the eighteenth century can be seen most clearly as a whole. Let us now proceed to the attempt to comprehend it under two other aspects which present a less definite picture the inner and outer forms imparted to life by man as he lived at that time.
By that external form, which life has in any age I mean that particular element in its cultural aims and achievements which is evinced
fairly consistently throughout its various expressions. Consequently it
is possible to identify, with some precision, from the documents of any
one of the expressions of this element, the tendency, nature and spirit
of its other expressions, and so of the culture of the time as a whole. If there is such an external cast for the eighteenth century, and one that we can identify, it is perhaps most allowable to comprehend it in terms of a striving to reduce everything to an absolute form. Inanimate nature especially, in all its realms, but man’s somatic existence too, the sound that could be spontaneously called forth, with all the possibilities for coloration and different rhythmic patterns which it presented, human language in all its adaptability as a means of expression, social intercourse, individual development and the individual in relation to society all this abundance of things provided is in the eyes of eighteenth-century man a mass of raw material, of which he believes himself to be the master. This material he confronts as he who has all the knowledge: knowledge of the form, the intrinsically right, fitting, worthy, beautiful form for which all the things provided are clearly intended to be the material, for which they are obviously crying out, and into which, as is plain, they must be brought with all the speed, artistry and energy man has at his command. It is easy to become ironical about this, but we must fight against the temptation if we wish to understand the true irony contained in such an attitude.
Eighteenth-century man, at least at the higher levels of society, had
very close ties with nature, and they were far from being simply of the
kind which lead man to study nature scientifically and exploit it for
gain; they could also be felt and enjoyed aesthetically. It is however
let it not be said too quickly a rationalized, but rather a humanized
nature, a nature which has been put to rights and formed in accordance
with man’s sensibility and enjoyment, an idealized, and most preferably
a visibly idealized nature, which is meant : the stream as a fountain, the lake as a clean and tidy pond, the wood as a park reduced to visible order, the field and the bushes and flowers as a garden, the tree shaped with the garden-shears, all these things reduced to harmony, which inevitably means to geometry, more or less; the tamed, groomed and trained animals, shepherds and shepherdesses whose nice prettiness and grace really left them no alternative but to turn eventually into those little porcelain figures; a nature which even after the grooming it has had to endure is really beautiful only when there is a Greek temple, a statue or a bust somewhere about which quite unequivocally serves as a reminder of the lords of creation. It was the time of Goethe which brought about a decisive inner change here but the external change took much longer and was slower in asserting itself: it would seem, as we can see from the Elective Affinities, for instance, that the game of ‘creating 9 nature in the eighteenth-century sense was indulged
in for a long time and on a grand scale in Weimartoo. The man who expresses an attitude to nature such as this must be unusually conscious and certain that he knows how he feels and that his feeling is valid in the sense that it is the true feeling.
The same determined and absolute will for form is conveyed by the architecture of the time. The domineering way in which building materials were handled is evidenced in works like the stairway of Briihl castle. Stone may no longer be stone, nor iron, iron, nor wood, wood.
Every material must be transposed (hence the particular fondness that
arose at this time for plaster, so obedient to the forming hand !) according to the imaginative though lucid and logical form, which man felt he ought to impose upon space. This form was that of the perception which he held significant and valuable enough to justify its projection into the materials, regardless of everything in them contrary to its own nature. Think too of the way they dared to build whole cities in those days not with the help of a natural rise in the ground or following the course of a river, as the builder of the older towns had built them, but as in Karlsruhe, Mannheim and Ludwigsburg, with a fully deliberate use of the ruler and compasses and with a mathematical and to that extent harmonious form in mind, absolute enough to be capable of taking shape not only in one building or group of buildings, but on occasion in complete towns. And in this there is as little true contrast in the attitude to life between the relative immoderacy of the so-called Baroque style, with its almost wildly sweeping and intersecting lines, its exuberant ornamentation, and its human and angel statuary imbued with the whole gamut of the human passions, and the Rococo moderation which tended to revert to a kind of tranquil cheerfulness or cheerful tranquillity, as there is contrast in the attitude to life of the ordinary absolutist and his enlightened counterpart, as there is for that matter between pietism and rationalism. The buildings which are most characteristic of that time are precisely those which represent the transitional period between the two styles, and it is only from there that either can begin to be understood. It is just as irrelevant to condemn the one on the grounds that it is bombastic and overladen as to condemn the other for being stiff and affected, unless we have first appreciated in both the boldness of feeling behind them feeling which took itself entirely seriously and whose entire striving was therefore for an adequate means of expression. What other age has dared to make architecture of its inmost heart to the extent that this one did? But this was an age which simply had to, for its inmost heart was precisely this idea of man as one taking hold of everything about him and subjecting