Not suddenly as you or I measure time, but suddenly according to the stately cadences of historical events, we have lost, if not yet our species, at least, and ominously, our name for it. At some point in the not very distant past, “Man” vanished…not extinguished as an organism, but as an object of consciousness. For where there is no name there can be no consciousness, where there is no consciousness there can be no science. Today there is no longer a science called Anthropology worthy of its name, for the name has been banished. I don’t mean the entertaining science of bones and basket weaving and many other shining objects which are offered in college curricula as “Anthropology.” I mean Anthropology in the most specific of species-centered meanings, inquiry into that simple question….”What is…what is…[bleep!].” It is a question which can scarcely be asked today, let alone answered.
This masking of “Man” strikes me as an important development which deserves an extended and serious discussion. To that end, some ground rules are necessary, concerning which I have some good news and some bad news. Here goes both: Sex will not be mentioned in the course of this article. I have no interest whether the reader be sex-crazed or celibate, male or female or anywhere on the spectrum in-between. I am only interested in whether you think this Anthropological murder mystery is worth of your time and consideration.
If you concur, then the omission of sex and his/her ugly sibling “gender” is good news indeed, because these things are monumental and, I would argue, intentional, distractions from the difficulties involved in Philosophical Anthropology. Those bad news bears, non-adults who think sexuality is the central, nay exclusive, issue in life, can adjourn to their favorite safe space, the Reading Room on Gender, where they can reinforce their own bias among those vast collections of literature which are supplemented daily by our subsidized scholars and their media mimes.
Now to be sure, there are other rabbit paths leading away from the essential inquiry, its just that sex and gender are the most obvious, if not the most obnoxious, and hence need to be eliminated first. However, those other anti-Anthropological rabbit paths, though less celebrated, become increasingly subtle as the core of the problem is approached. In any subject, the task is hard enough when we have been force-fed the wrong answers…the real difficulties start when we realize that we started off on the wrong foot by asking the wrong questions. Today, when we encounter the fundamental question of Philosophical Anthropology, to paraphrase the incidentally sexy but essentially humane Erin Brockovich, “..all we have is two wrong feet and damn ugly shoes.” We don’t know”bleep!”…and the absence of the word doesn’t help.
If we wish to restore that lost science, it will prove necessary to go back and wrap our brains around that simple word “Man” which was once the standard English term for the class of all human beings, much like its French equivalent “l’homme” etc.. Man has long since disappeared out of scholarly, correct and polite language, which means pretty much everywhere, since in casual idiom, if we discount “Man oh man!” and similar oddities, the universalizing nomenclature of Philosophical Anthropology is worse than useless. After all, you can tell a good joke about Poles, or rabbis, or priests, or homosexuals, or women, and yes, even about “men” qua the male gender, but its hard (short of aliens or the envious algorithms of The Matrix) to envision a “Man” joke. However, while the comedians won’t notice, there might be a few instances where, for the health of civilization, the ability to have a word for the human species could come in handy. From this, we can derive another important consideration, once “Man” has been abolished, it is unlikely to be missed by the broad masses. The only people who are likely to be bothered are a few specialists in what it means to be a unique species, and these specialists are generally regarded an over-serious, isolated and boring bunch. Likewise, if the word “epidemic” and all synonyms for “epidemic” were outlawed, the only people likely to get in a panic would be epidemiologists. Everyone else would get along quite splendidly…at least for a while.
To be sure, the abolition of “Man” and the Abolition of Man, as per the essay by C.S. Lewis are not identical. The latter concerns the weakening of the species, the former concerns the loss of its name. Indeed, the distinction between signs and things signified is another treasure which must be jealously guarded against the ravages of post-modernity, which is trying to slouch its way back towards a magical worldview. Be that as it may, we can still surmise that in the defense of something it might prove essential to be able to speak about it.
On the other hand, we have to make especially sure we don’t get lured down another popular rabbit path, a highly respectable path none the less leads away from the Anthropological core: The path of language. For example, we could easily lump this abolition of “Man” (the word) together with similar language “correction.” Pointing out the absurdity of these corrections is the strategy of many conservatives, such as British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton who talks about the way that gender neutrality reforms have “violated the natural cadences of the English language.” On an esthetic level, there may still be some residual irritation at “people” (or similar substitutes) in lieu of “Man”. Yet, while this is good Edmund Burke-vintage common sense, it heads off in a trivial and logic mincing direction, of the kind favored by British analytical philosophers and American word-pundits in the Bill Safire tradition. It expresses a futile, rearguard, hope that inane reforms, like the substitution of his and hers by “hez” can be reversed by a return to the convention, or even mutual rationality. Rather, the Postmodernist hoards are not likely to be stemmed by a grammar policeman, policewoman, or even police person holding up a gloved hand, shouting “Stop!” It’s not that the “reforms” can’t be exposed as illogical and unappealing, it’s that they are just the tip of the spear carried by acolytes in a far deeper struggle.
Whether the war over language is winnable, I maintain it is the war against Man (as a concept) which is primary, a battle with ideological motives rooted in the hoary past. Call it a “conspiracy” if you will, keeping in mind that conspiracy is just popular philosophy prosecuted by cadres of minimally educated but highly motivated minions. The generals in this conspiracy knew that they could not launch a frontal assault on Man (a.k.a. the human race), so they focused their attention on “Man” at first as a concept and then as a word. This history of this war is better measured by centuries than by decades and has taken many a convoluted turn. Hence my belief that contemporary Feminism is, at best, a secondary effect. It is the Amazon battalion thrown into the breach of the citadel after the groundwork had been patiently laid and the initial battlefield secured. That crucial battlefield was anthropology, and not what one is liable to think of as the field of anthropology, but its philosophical cousin, that key science of all sciences, namely, the “Philosophy of…[bleep!]…”
A good “Man” is wrong to find
One can admit something exists and is important without idolizing it. There was all too much idolization of the human race after the Renaissance and building up to the Enlightenment, a period bookended by Pico de la Mirandola’s On the Dignity of [Bleep!] and Alexander Pope’s Essay on [Bleep!] tomes which style and economy have rendered, perhaps mercifully, unreadable today. In those days, whenever errant scholars ventured too far from the Pauline/Augustinian double anthropology of fall and redemption, it spelled trouble. However, personal repentance generally put a limit to the damage which could be inflicted before the toxic juice of self-worship became endemic to society. Mirandola befriended and was converted by Savonarola, that misunderstood Catholic puritan, while at least Pope never became the Pope nor were his verses rendered into binding encyclicals. Savonarola taught the early humanists the secret of Christian Anthropology, that Man is both sacred and bad. For his tuition and other causes, he was burned at the stake.
The last child and virtual apotheosis (that is, one “made into God”) of the early modern period were Voltaire, whose hatred of religion was legendary. None the less, even Voltaire had too much common sense to think that his animus towards Christianity could be transmuted into a new and living faith. He noted that “It is easy enough to start a new religion, all you have to do is get yourself crucified and then rise from the dead!” In recent years, the late Rene Girard has documented Voltaire’s insight with numerous case-studies, illustrating how most human religions originate in scapgoating, death, and subsequent apotheosis. However, the wily Voltaire could see where all this was heading and limited his disciples to the “cultivation of their gardens” i.e., the enjoyment of a quiet and restrained sensuality. We might call this soft-core Humanism or the humanism of the self. This early modern Man-ism, which today is probably the most popular (albeit unconscious) religion on the planet, is little more than a recrudescence of old Epicurus, whose famous doctrine Paul once debated on the field of Athenian Mars. At worst the virtues of this philosophy, such as conviviality, apolitical repose, refined aesthetics etc., are disguised vices, vices centered on feelings. Think of the steriotypical Country Club Republican of today’s America. Such people are pathetic, but not in any superficial sense of the word, since the purpose of their life is “pathic”…that is, to have feelings, high-quality feelings.
Hard-core Humanism was a novelty of Voltaire’s rival, J. J. Rousseau. In contrast to the soft doctrine, here the object of the action is the ideal of Man, not the feeling-satisfaction of individual human beings. It was Rousseau who managed to transmute the Enlightenment’s carping animus against Christianity into something resembling a true religion. As the founder of this new religion, which has variously been termed Modernism, Humanism, Socialism and much else, Rousseau should have found himself subject to the pitiless Law of the Scapegoat. However, he eluded martyrdom, and not just because he died a natural death nineteen years prior to the outbreak of the revolution he had inspired. Rousseau’s Man differed in important ways from both Christian and Renaissance conceptions, which were predicated on either a personal God or at any rate, a hierarchy of beings of which the human race was but one link in the chain of existence. Although initially disguised by Deistic code-words, the new religion lifted up Man as the Head of the Cosmos. Since this Man was a collective, it was not expedient that any individual anti-Christ need suffer the Law of the Scapegoat. If there were to be any suffering, it would only be in accord with the tyrant Caligula’s wish for the Roman people, “If only they all had but one neck!” In principle, the head which lifts itself too high gets chopped off. Caligula himself proved no exception to the rule.
At all events, by the 2nd or 3rd year of the Human Revolution (c. 1793AD) modern technology had outstripped antiquity, democratizing death and allowing Caligula’s dream to come true. The guillotine enabled the disciples of Rousseau to liquidate the old political class en mass, and then in a predictable turn of events, those disciples themselves mounted the scaffold, suffering a kind of mechanical crucifixion to the god whom they had lifted up, Man. It was a collective crucifixion to a collective god, for this “Man” was not the same as in the soft Humanism of Voltaire, which was just a category designating a collection of individuals. Rather, this post-Rousseau “Man” was, if not quite a concrete organism, at least cohesive enough to have a single will, a doctrine as lethal as it was democratic.
The carnage of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic period was not repeated in Europe until 1914 and thereafter, after which great quantities of men and women again began to be killed as a consequence of political and military action. Here we would like to inquire whether this carnage (lit. carnal death) was in some sense related to the death (or life) of an abstraction. Is there a relation between the death of humans and the death of “Man” as a concept and a word, and if so, is that relation positive or negative? The example of the French Revolution would seem to caution us against a laudatory Humanism, on the suspicion that the higher the ideal of “Man” is lifted up, the more human individuals are likely to be subjected to political violence.
At this point in the argument, however, such a conclusion would be premature. The period between the exile of Napoleon and the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia, which saw relative calm in European politics was conversely that period which witnessed, for good or ill, a wholesale revolution in popular concept of “Man” under the impact of Evolution, Marxism, and Psycho-analysis. However none of these epicenters of scientific upheaval were directly concerned with Anthropology, at least Philosophical Anthropology, rather they were centered on the cognate disciplines of biology, economics, and psychology.
More to the point, none of these revolutionaries set out to solve the problem, “What is… [bleep!]…” However others took up that now forbidden question, and we should try to pick up their tracks from where they left off in the tumult of 19th century thought.
Philosophical Anthropology: The Conspiracy Thickens
Today if you mention “Illuminism” it is likely to conjure up secret societies, occultism and political skulduggery, critical investigation into which is no doubt important and proper. However in the literary salons of Europe and America during the 1840s and 185os Illuminism had a second, though in all probability related, meaning. It referred to the then-novel research which today’s theologians refer to as the “Higher Criticism.” If you know about, say, the “Jesus Seminar” then you pretty much know what Illuminism a.k.a. “Higher Criticism” was, except that the contemporary Seminar is pretty much an isolated rehashing of themes which were treated with greater plausibility and seriousness 170 years before. Those earlier 19th century critics of religion were advancing along the front of a broad intellectual movement which was in the early stages of transiting from spiritualism to materialism. The cynosure of the movement was Germany in the years following, and in reaction to, the death of philosopher G.F.W. Hegel. To simplify a very complex way of thinking, many people of that time had accepted Pantheism, the idea that the universe and God are the same thing. Since most people are not very quick on the uptake and are willing to sign on to belief systems before they grasp all of its correlative implications.
Thus, many a happy Pantheist, circa 1840AD, was surprised and saddened to learn that their system no longer permitted them to believe in the personal divinity of Jesus, whom they had hoped to retain as a spiritual hedge in spite of their infidel inclinations. They should have figured this out from reading Hegel, but it took the shock treatment administered by some young, radical, German intellectuals of the time (a.k.a., the Illuminists, Higher Critics etc.) to rub the noses of these au currant ladies and gentlemen in the compost of atheism. After a halfhearted embrace of Pantheist ambiguity, some among the elite classes of Europe were again courting hard-core, Rousseau-vintage, Humanism, very much along the lines of the original French Revolution of 1789, albeit the European political revolutions of the 40s didn’t amount to much. This time, humanism broke out with more scientific rigor and less heartfelt enthusiasm, “Man” was made the vehicle of those hopes and dreams which had previously been invested in God. Moreover, the unprecedented technological progress of the times were conducive to putting faith in human works.
Yet those works, splendid as they might be, begged the nature of their creators. What was the essence of Man? Or as we would say today, “What is the essence of….[bleep!]?” Amazing though it might seem in retrospect, some people of that era actually took the time and pains to ask the Anthropological question. The man who best serves as archetype of those questioners, actually proposing and discarding several solutions over the course of his life, was the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). One thing that can be said of Feuerbach, even if we dismiss him as a serial wrong-guesser who justly earned posthumous obscurity, was his persistent and scrupulous engagement with the Anthropological question. His best-remembered quote,”You are what you eat!” might ornament a nutritionist more gloriously than a philosopher. Yet we must consider that, as a thinker, he was an anvil and not a hammer, pounded left and right by forces which were not just making Modernity but shattering the classical mirror of Man (better known to us as “bleep!”). Feurerbach’s lifetime bracketed an epochal turn in human self-definition, a turn which Feuerbach didn’t initiate so much as chronicle.
Therefore, meditate on the chronological sketch below and notice how the turn from Anthropology to anti-Anthropology transpired in the space of a specific, species-haunted, generation. I know this narrative will be easy to dismiss as a curmudgeon’s rant on “the origins of the left” but if you visualize the broad movement behind, and independent of, individual intentions will you grasp its Anthropological significance. In spooky confirmation of a simultaneous and universal (or at least pan-Western) turn of thought, the history of early Positivism could be adduced as a development in synchronicity with Idealism, but in this case the decapitation of Man being conducted by French, and allegedly “conservative” social scientists from August Compte to Emile Durkheim. But I rather prefer the bold and brooding history of Anglo-German radicalism.
1804 death of Immanuel Kant, birth of L. Feuerbach
1806 Hegel publishes his Phenomenology, consciousness posited as the motive force in the history of the world, subjective (individual) consciousness conditioned in a “dialectical” relationship to objective (collective) consciousness.
1818-19 Lectures on the History of Philosophy, S. T. Coleridge introduces German Idealism to the English reading public, slowly Idealism will replace the reigning Scottish “common sense” philosophy in the English speaking world.
1831 death of Hegel
1835 Life of Jesus, by Strauss
1841 The Essence of Christianity by Feuerbach
1843 The Essence of Christianity translated by George Eliot
1844 Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, critical of objectivity and lack of political engagement in speculative Anthropology
1847-48 Revolutions in France and central Europe
1848 The Communist Manifesto
1850 The Great London Exposition, popular vindication of applied technology over philosophical and scientific theory
1854-56 Crimean War (only major European war between 1815-1914) Nightingale, progressive transfer of humane care from family and church to state
1859 Charles Darwin, the Origin of Species, natural selection adduced as motive force in natural history
1860 Essays and Reviews, English theologians embrace the methods of Higher Criticism
1861-65 American civil war, first modern “total” war
1861 Marx, Capital vol. 1 published
1871 Charles Darwin, the Descent of Man
1872 Death of Feuerbach
Note that at the outset Man was The All-In-All, but at the end of the period, not even the child of a monkey, rather, a scion of some anonymous animal.
In The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach attempted to equate God with “good.” In his view, all the things which were posited of a Supreme Being were actually virtuous attributes of the human species-being. Justice, mercy, love, fidelity, etc., were human characteristics, which had been mistakenly projected on to an alienated figment of the collective imagination and deified. However, and here’s the rub, the human individual had no more ultimate reality than God. Feuerbach’s Man was not men, or men and women, or even people, but the species as a collective. Individuals were mortal but the species was immortal. Man was God, Man was good, and Man would live forever. At the time it seemed like a grand faith, a devotion to something tangible which might give meaning to the limited and fragile life of individuals.
Feuerbach’s intention was to make a smooth transition from the crypto-Pantheism of Hegel, to a less infatuated, more earthy, Humanism. Yet his critics were more likely to see this continuity with idealism as contamination by unrealistic nonsense. As thinkers more cunning and sanguinary than Feuerbach were quick to point out, this alleged Human species-being never managed to will anything concrete and unanimously, but rather, all real history has been the history of antagonistic groups engaged in fratricidal strife. For the critics, the ultimate meaning of history was far better illustrated by victorious parties dancing on the graves of the defeated than a universally inclusive chorus singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. According to Karl Marx, the antagonistic parties were economic classes, and to some extent nations. Today we would add genders, races, religions, and even sexual orientations. Under fire from its radical critics, Human species-being quickly melted into the solvent of class analysis.
Small wonder that Marx happily discarded Feuerbach’s anthropology for the naturalism of Darwin, at one point seeking (and being refused) permission to dedicate Capital to the British naturalist. Darwin’s system was founded on the assumption of conflict and competition, not the deduction of human from divine virtues. Feuerbach continued to revise his system in the direction of increasingly consistent materialism but was no longer in the forefront of a generation which had jumped from philosophical speculation to natural science, now that the latter was backed up by the prestige of rapidly developing technology.
More significantly, the capital which Darwin did not endorse was the capital M in Man. In classical anthropology, Man had been one of the primordial kinds, as in Spirit, Man, Animal, and Mineral. Naturalists from Aristotle to Buffon had recognized that qua organism, the human body was akin to other mammals, and especially to apes and monkeys. However, in a consistently despiritualized science, the one human species was no longer set apart from the myriad of other animals but rather fell under the same biological and ethnological constraints as any other organism. This reduction may have deeply bothered Darwin personally, but as a scientist, he never really posed the Anthropological question the same way that Feuerbach had done, rather he was resigned to viewing homo sapiens as a single object within the purview of the natural science. In spite of the title, after The Decent of Man, Man ceased to exist as a problem for natural science. Or more precisely, from a Darwinian point of view, Man, as a unique aspect of the world, had never existed, to begin with.
From Man to “Man”
We began by hinting that the loss of “Man” was a harbinger of the death of our own species. After some clarification we can now understand that the situation is rather worse than we had initially feared, in that, conceptually, Man was killed off sometime in the middle of the 19th century, while “Man” (the word) actually survived the concept by more than a hundred years. To maintain clarity, we must remember that there are actually three deaths. First, the death of the concept, second the death of the word, and third, and yet to happen, the actual species extinction of homo sapiens. That the third death is yet to happen should not imply that it necessarily will, it is only a hypothesis. None the less, the three deaths are cognitively related. In particular, the death of Man (the concept) at the hands of Darwinism, is strongly associated with the putative mortality of the species. If Man is subject to species extinction, as are all organic taxa according to the laws of natural selection, then Man cannot be considered a primary aspect of the world. As an analogy, consider the concept of “states of matter” which are generally accepted as uniform, or at least ubiquitous, aspects of nature. If, say, all liquids could disappear from the cosmos, it would put the schema of “states of matter” in serious doubt. Something of that nature is what has happened with Man, due to the anti-Anthropological turn circa 1860.
Now, would it be too wicked for me to suggest that while Man is not a “species” in the same sense that felix domestica is a species, none the less Man bears an uncanny resemblance to the cat, that enigmatic creature of the proverbial nine lives? Not only did the word “Man” persist far longer than one might have expected, but Anthropology entered a period of great fruition after the death of Darwin. Here I’m not referring primarily to what people ordinarily think of as “Anthropology”, the post-Darwinian people-within-nature paradigm which covers everything from bones to basket weaving. Be wary that, just as in politics, where the nomenclature for everything gets twisted around to its opposite, and we now are forced to call socialists “liberals” in similar fashion those post-Darwinian scholars who no longer believe in a human essence are liable to call themselves “Anthropologists.” In fact, they are mostly anti-Anthropologists who just want to study the secondary attributes and accidental properties associated with human beings. Granted, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and on the whole these so-called Anthropologists are not a bad lot, being no more consistently anti-Anthropological than the other professionals who have inherited scattered fragments among the human sciences. If the so-called Anthropologists have any besetting sins, those would be 1) they stole the name away from genuine Anthropology, 2) some sub-schools were virulently anti-cognitive, for example, the ethnologist Franz Boaz who never saw a theory that he didn’t want to grind down into a powder of facts, 3) others, notably the Structuralists, were hyper-cognitive, and sought to gin up a Theory of Everything, based on some attribute (usually kinship or language) of human thought or behavior.
The anti-Anthropologists who called themselves “Anthropologists” loved “Man” (the word). After all, it was their schtick, and made a nifty title for textbooks, even textbooks written by sophisticated Darwinians and Marxists who knew that human species-being had gone out of fashion with Feuerbach. In the meantime, anything on two legs with an opposable thumb would do, and it was all great fun until Feminism put the kibosh on that particular branding. None the less, so-called “Anthropology” took the ban on “Man” in stride, since their usage of the term was based on a consistent nominalism, if not on a conscious memory of the anti-Anthropological roots of modern natural science. Fortunately, due to the exclusion of classical languages, undergraduates could still take “Anthro” and not worry their heads that banned “Man” had never meant just andro…indeed, that it had meant much more than both andro and gyno put together.
Yet, I wanted to mention the 2oth century miracle of Anthropology, not so-called “Anthropology” but genuine Philosophical Anthropology, as it flourished after, and in spite of, the anti-Anthropological turn of the previous generation. If I thought that Man were a mere species and not an attribute of Created Being, my inclination would be to classify it somewhere within the family Leporidae, as a mammal with a capacity for making unexpected intellectual leaps, and multiplying thoughts faster than other species can reproduce their genes. To that end, what great broods have been spawned, not just among the anti-Anthropologists, which is only to be expected, but even among genuine Anthropologists during the 20th and even 21st centuries!
Now remember, when I heap praise on the battered remnants of genuine, philosophical, Anthropology, I’m only lauding them for asking the right question, namely: “What is…[bleep!]” And by now you understand what “bleep!” is and that a Philosophical Anthropologist is one who would know and say that “bleep!”=Man, and that possibly we should even come out and say “Man” when we mean Man. I am not saying that many, or even any, of these Anthropologists have answered the question correctly, although I think there is an answer, and that some have made a closer approach to the correct solution than others. Naturally, I have my own views, but I would consider anyone a legitimate Anthropologist who asked the question aright.
There are schools of Philosophical Anthropology of every description. Some are religious, some are frankly atheistic, but even the most starkly atheistic Anthropologists demure from post-Darwinian naturalism in positing something unique and essential about the human race. In that sense, all Anthropologists, from atheists to Christians, are tendering a kind of “minority report” against the consensus view of modern science and society. An atheistic, but genuine, Anthropologist might posit that the human race has a unique responsibility to conserve the cosmos and bring it to its best potential. Countering this, the consensus view would maintain that such an assertion was errant nonsense, an arbitrary projection of human values into the unthinking and unthinkable void.
In a brief treatment, it is impossible to do more than allude to all the speculative “minority reports” which have been filed by Philosophical Anthropologists against the hegemony of post-Darwinian naturalism. No doubt many of these speculations have been wrong-headed, but they have at least kept a window open to world-views outside the standard narrative. If I had to pick a representative of the type it would be Max Scheler(German, d. 1928). Feuerbach’s anthropology began with materialistic idealism and sloped inexorably down to idealistic materialism, however Scheler’s thought described a parabola, which at its height sought the divine in Man. Personality, both Divine and Human, was arguably Scheler’s main concern, however his reluctance to deal with the limits imposed by a temporal creation, as per the Judeo-Christian scriptures, subordinated individuality to the vague infinity of deep time, a dilemma similar to that encountered by the ancient Gnostics. Abandoning his initial, and intentionally Christian, viewpoint, Scheler made the alarming discovery that, in precluding a personal God, the amoral instinctual urges of the Cosmos were far stronger than any principle of spiritual form or sentiment. The intellectual public in Germany and beyond, repelled by such otiose metaphysics embraced existentialism, a doctrine which gave up on the reality of anything but individuals. Anthropology once again retreated to the shadows.
In retrospect, Feurebach and Scheler seem like tragic figures who lifted up Man, in one or another guise, as a god, only to see their systems crushed down by more consistently nihilistic doctrines. However it doubtful whether their contemporaries saw the loss of Anthropological hegemony as something to be lamented. Rather, they were relieved to be unburdened of Man, just as they had greeted the earlier, and logically prior, “death of God” with satisfaction.
The return of Man, and the return of “Man”…which, both or neither?
The operational assumption is that people can get along perfectly well without a conception of their own species occupying a special place in the system of the world. Underlying this assumption is the more fundamental axiom that the natural science narrative is our default outlook on the world. After all, its “natural” is it not?
However, the “minority report” of Philosophical Anthropology raises the specter of a completely different world, a world in which the unique bearers of the divine image have been persuaded that they are but one of a myriad of animal species. By this account, the conceptual framework of natural science within which the image bearers were circumscribed, was not so much a “discovery” as the imputation of a belief-system. From this perspective, it is naturalism, not the classical Man-centered cosmology, which is fabulous. To get the masses of humanity to believe such a deflating fable in the course of a few centuries has been a superbly effective triumph of propaganda. Although we have some hints as to who has disseminated this propaganda, the question of in whose interest it was disseminated remains enigmatic.
Within the English-speaking world, the banner of the old classical Anthropology (Christian or secular) was “Man.” The banner was not furled up until long after the cause was lost. Yet the banner itself was essential, so essential that the high command of anti-Anthropology decided to send in the Amazonian battalion to haul it down under the pretext of the gender wars. Lost in the confusion of that particular skirmish, was the deep import of having a proper name for that key nexus of Creation through which the Divine, ideally, was to communicate its dominion over the visible world. “People” is more than just an innocent substitute for “Man”, since, being a plural, it serves as a pretext for importing the entire philosophy of nominalism into the human sciences. Nominalism views entities (you and me and the cat and the carpet) as capable of being grouped into any category which happens to be convenient. Who’s convenience?
It can be safely inferred that this is a view well suited to those who want to abolish the boundaries between species. Perhaps now the reader can see the relevance of all the preceding esoteric Anthropology, for looming on the event horizon of our world are a thousand crises brought about by relation of the human to the non-human. Indeed, we are conjuring up new categories of non-humans day by day. AI and aliens, robots and Chimeras, not to mention all those entities of the natural and spiritual world who are ancient in human lore. I eagerly await the rebirth of the “dinosaur” from its amber-encased DNA. Or will it be a dragon? Names make a difference.
None the less, we proceed without caution, for the night-watch has been relieved of its duties as the evening of human history encroaches. Isolated voices cry out, “There may be a problem here!” and anxiety is ubiquitous, but few are willing to “get real.” This is not an accident. The “real” tools, nay, the “real” weapons with which we might have fought were long ago taken away and beaten, not into plowshares, but into the bars of zoological confinement for what remains of the dignity of Man. The “real” tools were realistic in a properly philosophical sense, exalting created kinds as the unalterable building blocks from which God created our world. Such was Man. Hence the necessity of having a personal name for the species.
Will Man come again? I think so, but more on the basis of faith than calculation. In the meantime, others look towards a rapidly accelerating future and begin to realize that “Nature” is hardly a better idol than secular Man, that the sense of “nature-in-itself” is an illusory effect of what psychologists call normalcy bias. None the less, something is approaching, we know not what. Intellectuals call it “the end of history” while technologists speak of “the singularity.” Most just ignore it, but it will come nonetheless.