Text: In December of 1783, Immanuel Kant wrote his famous essay “WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT?” / What are the foundations of such an ATTEMPT AT EMANCIPATION GROUNDED IN REASON, which remained a project for so long and yet appears to be unstoppable, according to Immanuel Kant / Sociologist and philosopher Oskar Negt reports - -

Text: WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT? Oskar Negt on Immanuel Kant’s famous essay from December 1783

Alexander Kluge: On December 5, 1783, the Berlinische Monatsschrift published an article by Immanuel Kant: “What is Enlightenment? Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?” He writes: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” Immaturity means …?

Oskar Negt: Immaturity would mean that man does not make use of his faculties to the extent that he is able.

Kluge: ... to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. But he cannot do that if there is a lack of courage and determination, and that is why it is self-incurred, Kant says.

Negt: Lack of courage and determination. That means, he has every opportunity to do it, but he doesn’t take advantage of it because his faculties are not sufficiently motivated to mobilize reason as an independent activity.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Kluge: If he is immature not in a self-incurred way, but without any fault of his own –he might get lost in his emotions, he gets stuck in a romantic relationship – then he might still be searching for an escape from his immaturity.

Negt: He would say, I mean Kant would say: You need extra energy to climb out of an immaturity that has been caused by a third party. But generally speaking every person has the ability to search for and find solutions. I think that is his specific concept of enlightenment and self-enlightenment.

Text: Any conspiracy against enlightenment is null and void

Kluge: And there is a very prominent passage in the same article where he says: Any conspiracies directed against the process of enlightenment …

Negt: ... are null and void, indeed.

Kluge: … which might want to stop this process by saying, for example: Here are some issues where religious reservations or legal conditions offer a counterweight to the enlightenment. He says that shouldn’t happen.

Negt: Yes. It’s a very good illustration of the fact that anything legitimate, justified, valid, cannot stand in the way of the process of enlightenment, man’s self-enlightenment. That practically contradicts natural law.

Kluge: At the same time he relies on the political system of Frederick the Great, which he references several times. And Frederick the Great, or Frederick II of Prussia says: Think –

Negt: Yes, but obey!

Kluge: It’s similar to Glasnost. It’s not really a new community, a new republic that emerges; nor is it a global republic of the mind. At first it is a transitionary stage, very similar to Gorbachev’s notion: Obey, but work towards something that makes obedience unnecessary.

Negt: Well, the most important point is the expansion of the human faculty of judgment – the idea that people can judge and critique the conditions they rely on. That does not mean that they can immediately tear down this framework – Kant sees very clearly that it’s not that simple – but that man can develop his own abilities to the point where he can follow the hint of nature regarding his ability to be autonomous. This assumes that he can respect authority and at the same time is able to judge it – that also means to understand it as necessary and inevitable. This faculty of judgment is at the core of Kant’s concept of enlightenment.

Text: How can ENLIGHTENMENT be of help in 1932?

Kluge: Now we are looking at the year 1932. Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory is aggressively facing off with the onslaught of mass movements, in particular fascism. This raises the question: What is the significance of Enlightenment if the sciences, the people, society are not capable of fending off the fascist movement. Maybe the project of enlightenment is lacking a certain resource. The faculty of reason is obviously not sufficient in order to contain this affective rebellion …

Negt: Especially if the affects are moving into an entirely different direction, the direction of …

Kluge: We want to be less independent.

Negt: Yes, we want to be less independent, we choose our dependency on authority. The cult of the Führer is based on the idea that a sacrifice of the self, an abandonment of reason is incorporated into one’s affective system. And when that happens, enlightenment gains an entirely different dimension. It has to involve sensory experience just as much as the affects and the mind. That is also true for Kant’s other texts: the affects play a significant role both for the obstruction but also the facilitation of enlightenment.

Kluge: Of course Kant’s thinking goes back to a century-old tradition of the emergence of the new civil society, the emergence of man as innovative thinker. The processes of enlightenment and education, which are tied together in philosophy, run parallel with the development of freedom of trade, tulip cultivation in Holland, stock markets, markets, capitalism, they are almost indistinguishable. Trade progresses at the same pace as free thought. Could you say that?

Negt: Yes. Markets and public spheres are closely connected. The fact that people can move freely in the market, so that gradually, there is something like freedom of trade, all that heavily affects freedom of thought, of course.

Kluge: And the process of enlightenment shows a lot of respect towards those that one aims to enlighten. Kant says this repeatedly, he talks about the American Indians and their right to property, their right to put their foot on their own piece of land. That is a right of the savages, as he calls them. And the market, freedom of trade, doesn’t do that. They advance without any respect. That’s fundamentalist.

Text: Oskar Negt, philosopher

Negt: There is a certain element of coldness that sneaks into personal relationships together with the circulation of money and exchange of goods. The respect for a down-to-earth attitude, towards everything that people love and care about, slowly disappears. But that is also an aspect of this kind of enlightenment.

Kluge: We have not yet seen a process of enlightenment that exists only because of this love and respect, that does not simply run parallel to freedom of trade, the enslavement of other peoples, to the appropriation of the world, to colonialization, if you will.

Negt: No. There are a number of attempts, even scientific attempts. The Freudian theory is such an attempt to connect the motivations, the forces at work within the human being. For Freud, that is relevant when he says: “The Ego is not master in its own house.” That means, there are drives, there are affects that run contrary to what the mind wants. The subconscious …

Kluge: Contrary to the use of the intellectual faculties.

Negt: Exactly. The use of the intellectual faculties.

Kluge: First, one would need to congregate analytically – to unite the unconscious and the conscious powers of the Super-Ego.

Negt: And to tie them together in a specific form of cooperation. In that sense, man is not yet properly put together in his faculties. He constantly has to work to mobilize the faculties in order to make an emergence from immaturity possible. That’s why education, political education is a constant process – it’s not a one-time thing, going to school and getting lessons in sociology and then being set for life. I think it’s a big problem for enlightenment that it is a process, a continuous mobilization process of disconnected human faculties that need to be connected.

Kluge: Sapere aude. Have courage to use your own faculties, your intellectual faculties but also all the others you have. Be autonomous. Be daring. That is something that spread already around 1600 as a huge movement in the Netherlands coming from Italy – Shakespeare writes his great plays precisely in the years after 1600 – it’s practically a European movement towards a new type of human, a new self-consciousness. If you could describe this self-consciousness, the foundation, the raw material of Enlightenment more closely – not the rhetorical 18th century, but the rather productive 17th century?

Negt: Well, in the 17th century, everything that is related to the connection between the faculties is much more prominent than for example in the 19th century with its world of isolated nation states. There is still a kind of universalism. The people in the 17th century think in a universalist way, and that’s why they mobilize very different faculties and question … like Erasmus of Rotterdam, for example; he is naturally in contact with the English philosophers, with John Locke and others.

Kluge: And he is still haunted by the religious wars. That means, they are in a state of emergency. The Thirty Years War is looming. They have to deal with a very aggressive atmosphere. And from amidst these conditions emerges a new self-confidence: I am in charge of my life, I have responsibility towards the things I am tied to – community, marriage, children …

Negt: And of course that is ...

Kluge: First, the house needs to be put in order, which is new.

Negt: Completely new insofar as this Copernican system first removes man from the cosmos and provides him with the task of rebuilding it.

Kluge: He is moved to the periphery. He is not the center of the world.

Negt: No, not the center anymore.

Text: The NEW MAN of 1600 / The origin of the modern sciences

Kluge: At night, the anatomists are digging in human bodies, study the dead.

Negt: Indeed. Leonardo steals bodies in order to examine them.

Kluge: This aspect of Enlightenment is ruthless in a certain way. Simultaneously, opera emerges, the music, the monody. Monteverdi, 1607, “Orpheo”, the first European opera. Just imagine, if these opera composers – instead of composing bad stage plays or misunderstood Greek tragedies – had been able to use their music in the anatomical institutes, the natural sciences collections.

Negt: I can imagine.

Kluge: Just like music had already existed in church. It is not primarily present in theater. That way, music and natural sciences could have been wed.

Negt: But I also think that the development of the mensural notation and so on had something to do with this process of Enlightenment. The way it is written down, the harmony up to Bach’s “The Art of Fugue,” has something scientific. The well-tempered piano ...

Text: WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT? Oskar Negt on Immanuel Kant’s famous essay from December 1783