Saturday, 18 August 2018

Auguste Comte and Karl Marx

Auguste Comte developed his philosophy of positivism with the intention of correcting the problems which he believed led to the failure of the French Revolution. He saw himself as a successor the French revolutionaries of 1798—and in the Jacobin cult of reason he saw an anticipation of his philosophy of positivism. Albert Camus, in his essay on Marxism, “State Terrorism and Rational Terror,” (The Rebel; Page 137 to 190), outlines in a single paragraph the intellectual debt that Marx owes to Comte. Here’s an excerpt:
As for the necessity of evolution, Auguste Comte, with the law of three stages of man which he formulates in 1822, gives the most systematic definition of it. Comte’s conclusions are curiously like those finally accepted by scientific socialism. Positivism demonstrates, with considerable clarity, the repercussions of the ideological revolution of the nineteenth century, of which Marx is one of the representatives, and which consisted of relegating to the end of history the Garden of Eden and the Revelation which tradition had always placed at the beginning. The positivist era which was bound to follow the metaphysical era and the theological era was to mark the advent of a religion of humanity. Henri Gouhier gives an exact definition of Comte’s enterprise when he says that his concern was to discover a man without any traces of God. Comte’s primary aim, which was to substitute, everywhere, the relative for the absolute, was quickly transformed, by force of circumstances, into the deification of the relative and into preaching a new religion which is both universal and without transcendence. Comte saw, in the Jacobin cult of reason, an anticipation of positivism and considered himself, with perfect justification, as the real successor of the revolutionaries of 1789. He continued and enlarged the scope of this revolution by suppressing the transcendence of principles and by systematically founding the religion of the species. His formula ‘set aside God in the name of religion’ meant nothing else but this. Inaugurating a mania which has since enjoyed a great vogue, he wanted to be the Saint Paul of this new religion and replace the Catholicism of Rome by the Catholicism of Paris. We know that he wanted to see, in all the cathedrals, ‘the statue of deified humanity on the former altar of God’. He calculated with considerable accuracy that they would be preaching positivism in Notre-Dame before i860. This calculation was not as ridiculous as it seems. Notre-Dame, in a state of siege, Still resists: but the religion of humanity was effectively preached towards the end of the nineteenth century and Marx, despite the fact that he had not read Comte, was one of its prophets. Marx only understood that a religion which did not embrace transcendence should properly be called politics. Comte knew it too, after all, or at least he understood that his religion was primarily a form of social idolatry and that it implied political realism, the negation of individual rights and the establishment of despotism. A society whose scientists would be priests, two thousand bankers and technicians ruling over a Europe of one hundred and twenty million inhabitants where private life would be absolutely identified with public life, where absolute obedience ‘of action, of thought, and of feeling’ would be given to the high priest who would reign over everything, such was Comte’s Utopia which announces what might be called the horizontal religions of our times. Convinced of the enlightening powers of science, Comte forgot to provide a police force. Others will be more practical the religion of humanity will be effectively founded; on the blood and suffering of humanity.

Instead of correcting the problems in the French Revolution, Comte enshrined its worst features in his positivist philosophy. Instead of trying to protect people from state interference and oppression, he proposed that a new ruling class of technocrats should use a scientific method to regulate people’s behavior. As Camus points out in his essay, the scientific method, which entails suppression of all signs of independent thought, can only be implemented through the extensive use of the police machinery. And that is what the communist regimes are doing. Comte detached religion from theology, but attached it to communism. 

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