Loren Goldner on the recovery of the cosmobiological tradition

One of the problems I see with the contemporary left is its attachment to the industrial mode of civilization and its central conflicts. Underlying this is a deeper attachment to the ideas of modernity and the Enlightenment. While these traditions have much value, and they made us what we are, ‘they are us’, we also lost out on a number of things.

Loren Goldner proposes that one of the priorities of the new lefts should be to recover the lost participatory traditions of the Hermetic Renaissance thinkers, which had a much different outlook on our relationship with life and nature. Goldner makes the strong claim that both Hegel and Marx were still steeped in that tradition.

First, he argues that the left has forgotten this tradition: “The Foucaultian and Frankfurt School critics of the Enlightenment live off the impoverishment of the left by its extended romance with a one-sided appropriation of the Enlightenment, by the left’s century-long confusion of the completion of the bourgeois revolution by state civil servants with socialism, and by the worldwide crackup of that project. The pre-Enlightenment, Renaissance-Reformation cosmobiology which passed through German idealism into Marx’s species-being means even less to them than it does to figures such as Habermas. Yet the usual critique of them is undermined by the tacit agreement across the board that “nature is boring”, i.e. the realm of mechanism, as Hegel, articulating the ultimate state civil servant view, cut off from practice in nature, said. Both sides of this debate still inhabit the separation of culture and nature, Geist and Natur, which came into existence through the Enlightenment’s deflation of cosmobiology. It is the rehabilitation, in suitably contemporary form, of the outlook of Paracelsus and Kepler, not of Voltaire and Newton, which the left requires today for a (necessarily simultaneous) regeneration of nature, culture and society, out of Blake’s fallen world of Urizen and what he called “single vision and Newton’s sleep”.

Here is how he explains his strategy to recover this tradition, at the start of a recommended essay:

Our starting-point must be the direct opposition between the body of doctrine which came to be known as ‘Marxism’, codified in the First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals, and the ideas of Karl Marx. After separating these two, I want look at the relation between ‘Marxism’ and the body of ideas known as the Enlightenment, chiefly those of the French eighteenth century thinkers. Then I should turn to the earlier tradition sometimes called ‘Hermetic’, which includes magic, astrology and alchemy. I want to show how, when modern rational science defeated this outlook, it also lost something of value: its attitudes to humanity and nature. Following the work of Magee, I would then point out the deep immersion of Hegel in that old mystical tradition, and his direct opposition to the ideas and methods of Enlightenment thinking. Finally, I should return to Marx to see how his demystification of the mystics preserved the core of their profound insights.�

See also : Karl Marx and the fourfold vision of William Blake.
Books: Glenn Magee. ‘Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition’. Cornell University Press, 2001; Online version of a book on Marx and the future of humanity, by Cyril Smith, at http://www.cix.co.uk/~cyrilsmith/

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