Ljubodrag Simonović: Humanism – naturalism


Ljubodrag Simonović
E-mail: comrade@orion.rs
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            Marx’s idea of “humanism-naturalism” from the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts indicates the possibility of overcoming the antagonism between nature and man through their mutual cooperation resulting in a simultaneous fulfillment of both man’s and nature’s emancipatory potential. Marx: “Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement and, therefore, as man’s complete atonement as a social (i.e., human) being – a reunion accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. Thus communism, as fully developed naturalism, is humanism, and as fully developed humanism, is naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the antagonism between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the tension between existence and essence, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of History solved, and it knows itself to be this resolution.”

            The idea of  “humanism-naturalism”, as a concrete historical concept and not as an ideal that can only be dreamed of, indicates that Marx does not consider a future relative to capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order. Marx’s “humanism-naturalism” does not have a concrete historical dimension, but rather is based on the abstract determination of the essence of nature and man. “Humanism-naturalism” is projected into a future space where man and nature appear on a mythological level and correspond to their idealized concepts. For Marx, man’s liberation from his enslavement to nature and the possibility of nature’s humanization represent the resolution of their antagonistic relation. It is, however, based on the capitalist mode of development of the productive forces, a process that does not promote man’s liberation from nature, but rather makes him more dependent on it. According to Marx, the domination of nature and its exploitation, through technology, is the domination and exploitation of man. Indeed, capitalist technology consists of natural forces turned by capitalism into an anti-natural power. Capitalism “masters” nature by destroying it and thus creates man’s increasingly dangerous enemy. Only relative to the destructive tendencies of capitalist development can Marx’s idea of “humanism-naturalism” take on a concrete historical, critical and visionary meaning.

            On man’s relation to nature, Marx writes in Capital: “By acting on the external world and changing it, man at the same time changes his own nature.“ It follows that man’s relation to nature conditions man’s nature. Marx based his thesis on the view that, by transforming nature into useful objects, man conquers natural forces and, thus, develops his own creative powers. The transformation of nature has a libertarian and existential character. Following the same principle, if man transforms nature by destroying it, he simultaneously destroys himself as a natural and human being and becomes a destructive mechanism. Because of capitalistically degenerated labor, man does not develop his universal creative powers but, instead, is crippled as a natural, creative and social being and reduced to being a mechanical part of working processes – to being a destructive specialty-idiot. At the same time, capitalism, through the “consumer” way of life, has turned even non-work time into time for capitalist reproduction, that is, into time for the (self)destruction of man and nature. In capitalism, however, the relation to nature only appears to be mediated by human practice. Since man is instrumentalized, from his earliest youth, by a capitalistically conditioned way of life, human practice is but one of the manifestations of capitalism’s relation to nature and essentially corresponds to capitalism’s destructive character. At the same time, this destructive relation to nature conditions man’s relation to both society and the future, as well as man’s relation to himself as a natural and human being. Only if man, as an emancipated natural being, has a humanizing relation to nature, can he have a humanizing relation to his own body as his immediate nature and to himself as a human being.

             As for the glorification of nature, in One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse comes to the following conclusion: “All joy and all happiness derive from the ability to transcend Nature – a transcendence in which the mastery of Nature is itself subordinated to the liberation and pacification of existence. (…) Glorification of the natural is part of the ideology that protects an unnatural society in its struggle against liberation. (…) Civilization produces the means for freeing Nature from its own brutality, its own insufficiency, its own blindness, by virtue of the cognitive and transforming power of Reason. And Reason can fulfill this function only as post-technological rationality, in which technics is itself the instrumentality of pacification, organon of the ‘art of life’. The function of Reason then converges with the function of Art.“ “The brutality” of nature has an existential and life-generating character, unlike capitalist brutality, which has a destructive character and conditions man’s anthropological image: instead of being a “beast”, man has become a “(self)destructive” being. In capitalism, “nature ceases to be merely nature” by being deprived of its life-creating quality and reduced to the object of exploitation and destruction. In sport, which is a mirror of the true image of capitalism, nature does not free itself from its insufficiencies and brutality, but rather becomes the object of exploitation and destruction. In sport, the body, as man’s immediate nature, becomes the opponent who must be conquered and used for the attainment of inhuman ends. Man does not free himself in sport from natural determinism; he rather “frees” himself from life.

             Marcuse overlooks the fact that nature itself is humanizing. In Emile, Rousseau writes about the “art of living” learned by the child in nature, which “calls him to a human life”. For the North American Chief, life in nature enables the cultivation of the senses and, thus, the development of man’s aesthetical being, whereas the cutting of man’s organic bond with nature leads to a degeneration of the senses and, consequently, of man, himself. He says that the white man cannot hear the life sounds of nature, smell its scents, discern its colors… This is because the capitalist way of life has degenerated his senses and destroyed the need to enjoy the beauty of both nature and life, a pleasure possible only when man is an organic part of nature. Unlike Goethe and Schiller, Marx did not have a romantic relation to nature (for Klopstock, skates are “wings on the feet”, enabling man to fly to the future) and did not attach a particular importance to the aesthetical dimension of nature. Since capitalism, by destroying nature, abolishes natural brutality, it is necessary to fight for nature’s naturalization, for its liberation from the capitalist exploitation and destruction. Natural forces should be transformed into vehicles for nature’s preservation and humanization. Nature’s liberating potential is contained in its life-creating quality – in the creation of new forms of life. Man is by nature a life-creating being, who can be humanized only if his life-creating quality is recognized as an integral part of nature. Humanization becomes the development (overcoming) of the original naturality, and not its subordination to a rational pattern, to the model of the “humanized” and the like. Only as an emancipated natural being can man truly experience the fullness of his human being. Instead of being a form through which nature can be overcome by the “spirit”, which means to attain a notion of itself and relate to itself, man should overcome his original natural life-creating quality through the development of his creative being, meaning that it should become the basis for the totalization of the world. It is about the transformation of the principle of fecundity into the life-creating principle and the life-creating principle into the universal creative principle.

             As far as the relation between reason and nature is concerned, Marcuse writes about this in One-Dimensional Man in the context of his discussion of Hegel’s concept of freedom, with respect to which Marx develops his emancipatory thought. Marcuse: “Hegel’s concept of freedom presupposes consciousness throughout (in Hegel’s terminology: self-consciousness). Consequently, the ‘realization’ of Nature is not, and never can be, Nature’s own work: But inasmuch as Nature is in itself negative (i.e., wanting in its own existence), the historical transformation of Nature by Man is, as the overcoming of this negativity, the liberation of Nature. Or, in Hegel’s words, Nature is in its essence non-natural-‘Geist’.” And he continues: “History is the negation of Nature. What is only natural is overcome and recreated by the power of Reason. The metaphysical notion that Nature comes to itself in history points to the unconquered limits of Reason. It claims them as historical limits – as a task yet to be accomplished or, rather, yet to be undertaken. Nature is in itself a rational, legitimate object of science, thus it is the legitimate object not only of Reason as power, but also of Reason as freedom; not only of domination, but also of liberation. With the emergence of man as the animal rationale – capable of transforming Nature in accordance with the faculties of the mind and the capacities of matter – the merely natural, as the sub-rational, assumes negative status. It becomes a realm to be comprehended and organized by Reason.”
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