Having come a long way…

2 09 2010

It would, moreover, be interesting to psychologize some historical psychologists; I believe we could discover in them two tendencies. One is iconoclastic: it takes pleasure in attacking such figures as Plotinus or Marcus Aurelius, for example, who are naively respected by right-thinking people. The other is reductionist: it considers that all elevation of the soul or of thought, all moral heroism, and all grandiose views of the universe can only be morbid or abnormal. Everything has to be explained by sex or drugs.

The above is from Pierre Hadot’s book on Marcus Aurelius entitled The Inner Citadel, and concerns the theories of some modern scholars that the Stoic emperor was somehow a dope fiend or some other type of degenerate. I suppose I have also been going hog wild with my own postmodern conspiracy theories, and perhaps I need to take things more at face value. It is worth a thought.

Hadot is certainly no Catholic neo-con, or even a cultural conservative. But he was concerned with the integrity of human thought. One should take human nobility at face value most of the time, but one must always be vigilant againt irrational motives. Perhaps that is what is most useful about the tools supplied by such thinkers as Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, and other postmodern thinkers. Reason must always be subject to self-critique, or it ceases to be reasonable. Once passion enters in too much, once rhetoric becomes too belligerent, the structure must be torn down to preserve one’s humanity. Otherwise, one becomes a beast with the power of speech.

The fact is, since I read this book, I have almost considered myself more of a Stoic than a Christian, if only because I share most of their fatalism and think that often the only way to get by in the universe is to conform yourself to its coldly rational workings. Metaphysically, I am still a Neoplatonist on good days, but I have long since ceased to think that the course of history follows some gentle, loving path of gum drops and sweet compliments. History is brutal, and the cosmos is tough. Brace yourself, prepare for the fight, and do your duty.