Or: Kant’s trap
In the modern world, Immanuel Kant has been the poet’s greatest enemy, the enemy of clear, concise and transparent prose (my style).
Kant initiated the dark movement of classical German idealism, from which perhaps only the German nationalist pronouncements of Fichte are salvageable. While German music and literature were luminous (think of Beethoven and Goethe), German philosophy was tremendously obscurantist: and a thin tail of that cobweb even reached its way about how Mein Kampf was elaborated.
David Irving is correct that he never read Mein Kampf because, as an exact historian of the Third Reich, he didn’t want a text dipped into feather pens other than Hitler’s to contaminate his true biography (which is why Irving recommends reading daily each of the after-dinner talks of Uncle Adolf: these are uncontaminated). Mein Kamp is a PR book written for a people who, influenced by their philosophers’ style, had already betrayed the lyrical way of writing. For the same reason I don’t recommend The Gulag Archipelago, but the excellent abbreviation made by an Englishman, with the permission of the Russian author, that reads like an entertaining novel. I sincerely believe that an abridged edition of Mein Kampf should be tried, trying to keep only the passages that Hitler dictated.
But even in Hitler’s Table Talk I see a couple of disagreements with our Führer. One of them was a short sentence in which he expressed himself about the genius of Kant. As John Martínez said more than eight years ago on this site:
In another post you mentioned the fact that not a single one of the supposedly greatest philosophers ever said something about the importance of race to the establishment of a great civilisation like ours. That is to say, these guys have devoted millions of man-hours [Shelob’s trap] to discussing every single subject under the sun—except for what is perhaps the most important of them all from the point of view of our civilisation: the fact that it is a White civilisation and that these discussions are not taking place in Africa, Asia or what have you.
As Nietzsche scoffed at using an English word, Kant is ‘Cant’: his prose was empty and insincere, and he shouldn’t have hypnotised the Germans. The only proponent of the German Enlightenment worth rescuing was Hermann Samuel Reimarus, who initiated the discipline of analysing the New Testament that recently culminated in Richard Carrier’s book. The rest was hot air.
In my home library I have many books from the publisher Prometheus Books, which taught me to distrust the pseudosciences of the paranormal and even early Christianity (for example, the book that collects the surviving fragments of the 4th-century book that the philosopher Porphyry wrote against Christians, was published by Prometheus). Stewart’s first book was also published by Prometheus, The Truth About Everything. He believes that we have lost sight of what philosophy was in its original conception, and wrote that iconoclastic pamphlet to poke fun at academic philosophy.
In the chapter on Kant, Stewart asserts that this German philosopher was no Copernicus. On the contrary: his ‘metaphysics’ is one of the possible manifestations of a philosophical trend. Regardless of Kant’s influence, because of the apotheosis that was applied to him after his death, his name, says Stewart, is only a point of convergence of a plethora of beliefs based on the mistakes of Descartes.
Since, like Descartes, in those times the aim of the philosophers whose parents were Christians had been the reconciliation between science and religion, Kant divided the world into two absolutely disconnected worlds. Using my language, the celebrated philosopher of the kingdom of Prussia was just another guy who didn’t know how to shake off his parental introjects. The Kantian dream of ‘perpetual peace’ reminds me of the pictures of the lion laying with the lamb of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who ring the doorbell of my house.
It said that Prometheus Books warned me against pseudosciences. In one of the Martin Gardner books that I own, this hilarious writer informs us that crank scientists love to develop new vocabularies and mystifying language (imagine the hundreds of neologisms that L. Ron Hubbard created for Scientology).
A feature of Kant’s work is its vast technical vocabulary and abominable prose. Stewart tells us that if one translates Kant’s newspeak into oldspeak (the same is possible with Hubbard’s neologisms) it is possible to begin to see behind the smokescreen and mirrors of the three Kantian ‘critiques’.
For example, a priori / a posteriori are Latin words that simply mean ‘before’ and ‘after’ in a logical rather than temporal sense. But those who are not alert to the crank sciences will believe that there is something very profound when Kant speaks to us, say, about the ‘transcendental unity of apperception’, or of the ‘transcendental ego’ (the latter reminds me of Hubbard’s ‘operative thetan’!). Even with the word ‘pure’ in his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant means ‘uncontaminated by experience’.
According to Stewart, this repertoire of concepts seems to be sophistry and illusion, adding that Kant succumbs to the medieval error of turning a tedious logic into a radical ontological falsehood (How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?). Stewart also claims that Kant confines the science of the world to projections and shadows, mere appearances, and all this to save religion. The Categorical Imperative is the Kantian machine for the Moral Law (read: the education that little Immanuel received as a child in a religiously abusive home) based on ‘reason’ (and, to boot, we must take into account the cryptic definition of ‘reason’ by Kant).
Beyond the very dense Kantian jargon, this guy surreptitiously inserts the substance into the bosom of an otherwise purely formal theory. That’s why, Stewart affirms, the Critique of Practical Reason is a betrayal, and that this is the key we need to decipher Kantian ethics: the result of the standards that Kant received as a child in the bosom of a pietistic Christian family. (Pietistic Lutheranism is a movement within Lutheranism that combines its emphasis on biblical doctrine with an emphasis on individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life.)
Stewart’s criticism is not original. Almost all of his arguments were defended in writing by living characters as a result of the publication of the first Kantian critique. The problem is that modern ‘philosophers’ share the apotheosis of Kant, and generally believe in the professional respectability of that crank thinker. The Eastern gurus (think of the Zen monks) hypnotise the faithful by saying things that are extremely unpleasant for commonsensical ears, but presented as profound metaphysical truths. Kant’s promise that he was able to reverse the basis of all knowledge, from ‘object’ to ‘subject’, is just this kind of psyop to dupe the unwary.
In sum, Stewart tells us, Kant’s obscurity is the critical factor in allaying the concerns of those who have brought Kant to the universities. His obtuse distinctions exude an air of professionalism and his twisted arguments give the impression of depth. The resulting inconsistencies supply grain for the controversial windmills of academic philosophy.
All that Stewart says invalidates not only bestsellers on philosophy like the bestselling story that Will Durant wrote, but what they want to teach us in the academy under the pretentious name of ‘philosophy’, supposedly love of wisdom. Stewart concludes by telling us that both the rationalists and the empiricists of the 17th century tried to take philosophy out of the monasteries, turning it into the fiefdom of the amateurs. Kant collected his ideas at the service of a return to the monastic age. After him, philosophy was to be safe from rebellious amateurs and returned to its peaceful seminaries and universities. Of course, the new theologians were no longer debating the sex of angels. They are masturbating themselves, intellectually, with ‘the facts of conscience’. Aristotle ceased to be the object of scholastic comments to be relieved by Kant.
Nietzsche wrote: ‘Kant’s success is just a theologian success: Kant, like Luther, like Leibniz, was one more drag on an already precarious German sense of integrity… Kant became an idiot. — And such a man was the contemporary of Goethe! This disaster of a spider (*) passed for the German philosopher!’
(*) For Francis Bacon (1561-1626) the metaphysicians were like spiders that constructed their webs with a substance segregated from their insides, resulting in that their conclusions kept little if any connection to empirical reality. Kant has been the biggest spider of all, Tolkien’s Shelob! The number of philosopher’s apprentices who have fallen into his cobwebs trying to decipher them, in a vain search for wisdom, is legion.