La Trahison des Clercs

“But the most remarkable thing about the modern ‘clerk’ is his desire to bring political passion into his work, is that he has done so in philosophy, more precisely, in metaphysics. Among all forms of spiritual labor metaphysics best deserved the admirable tribute which a mathematician rendered the theory of numbers above all branches of mathematics, when he said: ‘This is the really pure branch of our science, by which I mean that it is unsullied by any contact with practical application’. In fact thinkers free from any sort of earthly preference, like Plotinus, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, and even thinkers strongly imbued with the superiority of their class or nation (like Plato and Aristotle), never thought of directing their transcendental speculations towards a demonstration of this superiority or the necesity of this adoption by the whole world. (…) It was reserved for own age to see metaphysicians of the greatest eminence turning their speculations to the exaltation of their own countries and to the depreciation of other countries, fortifying the will to power of their compatriots with all the power of abstractive genius. Fichte and Hegel made the triumph of the German world the supreme and necessary end of the development of Being, and history has showed whether the action of these ‘clerks’ had an effect on the hearts of their laymen. Let me hasten to add that this spectacle of patriotic metaphysics is provided by Germany alone. In France, even in this age of nationalist ‘clerks’, we have not yet seen any philosopher (at least one who is taken seriously) build up a metaphysical system to the glory of France (…) Need I add what a degradation this has been for metaphysics, as it has been for art? It will be the eternal shame of the German philosoohers to have transformed the patrician virgin who honored the Gods into a harpy engaged in shrieking the glory of her children.”


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