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Cristina GELAN 73 Cristina GELAN J. C. Friedrich von Schiller. Aesthetics and Politics Abstract To arrive at a practical solution in the political problem, one must take the road of aesthetics because, in Schiller’s opinion, it is only through beauty that we arrive at freedom. This can only be demonstrated if we first know the principles by which reason is guided in political legislation; for, although in its aesthetic state human action is truly free and it is free to the highest degree from any constrictions, it is not, nevertheless, beyond laws. Reason and the illumination of the mind, Friedrich Schiller believes, are not enough to make the truth triumph and heal the political: an education of feeling is necessary. The education of feeling represents the most stringent necessity as it becomes both a means to render efficient the improvement of ideas and judgments in practical life, and a cause generating this improvement. For, any amelioration in the sphere of the political must have in view the ennoblement of the character, and the instrument most at hand to this aim is the art of the beautiful. Beauty is the common object of the two impulses or instincts (reason and experience) and is best expressed through the concept of play; it is only play that renders man complete and develops his double nature. Making the beautiful a mere play does not involve a degradation of beauty; restricting the beautiful, which is regarded as an element of culture, to mere play is not in contradiction with the dignity of beauty, but we must look at the idea of play as it was expressed by Johan Huizinga also, and see man as the homo ludens providing the art of life. In one of the Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, Friedrich Schiller conveys the idea that “to arrive at a solution even in the political problem, the road of aesthetics must be pursued”1, considering that the edifice of true political freedom represents the most accomplished of the works of art. 1 Schiller, Friedrich, The Aesthetical Essays. Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, 1976, Letter II, Univers, Bucureşti, 1981, p. 253; 74 J. C. Friedrich von Schiller. Aesthetics and Politics From the very beginning we need to clarify the issue of aesthetics in the work of Friedrich Schiller; to this purpose, it is essential to understand that the assertions the philosopher makes regarding this issue are based on Kantian principles2. According to the former, the task of the artist (the one whose instrument is the art of beauty) is to take the matter from the his age and raise it to the form in the sphere of the humane, while at the same time showing the direction to goodness and truth; for, the beautiful represents an equilibrium between reality and form, since beauty reunites the two opposed determinations of feeling and of thinking, the former being certified by experience and the latter, by reason. To reach the aesthetic state means to unify the two determinations and not to mingle or isolate them. As the poet- philosopher shows in Letter XIX, the human spirit is passive by the impressions of the senses and active by thinking; it is the beautiful that builds a bridge over the gap when, “urged by the senses, allows thought to rise above the two impulses, affirming its humanity through self- awareness and through will”3. Thus, the beautiful may become the means leading man from matter to form, from feelings to laws. Reason and the illumination of the mind, Friedrich Schiller believes, are not enough to make the truth triumph and heal the political: an education of feeling is necessary. The education of feeling represents the most stringent necessity as it becomes both a means to render efficient the improvement of ideas and judgments in practical life, and a cause generating this improvement. For, any amelioration in the sphere of the political must have in view the ennoblement of the character, and the instrument most at hand to this aim is the art of the beautiful. At a closer look on modern culture, the philosopher finds that modernity has mutilated people and estranged them from one another. To illustrate this, Friedrich Schiller brings forth the example of ancient Greek culture, highlighting the contrast between the cultural form of humanity during the modern age and that in ancient Greece. According to Schiller, the period of Greek culture shows the sublime awakening of the powers of the mind, due to the fact that the domain of the senses and the domain of the spirit had no distinctly separated property, as Grecian nature combined all the charms of art and all the dignity of wisdom. 2 Kant, Immanuel, The Critique of Judgment, Trei, Bucureşti, 1995, pp. 25-43; 3 Idem 1, Letter XIX, p. 309; Cristina GELAN 75 The Greek, Schiller believes, receives his forms from nature, for nature is the one that unifies all things, while modern man receives his forms from intelligence, which divides all things. Thus, modern man only gets to form himself as fragmentary and fails to develop the harmony of his being, “having nothing in his ears but the monotonous sound of the perpetually revolving wheel”4; instead of imprinting the seal of humanity on his being, he ends by being nothing more than the living impress of the craft to which he devotes himself, of the science that he cultivates. Moreover, the governing authorities, knowing humanity only by representation, compelled to classify and therefore simplify the multiplicity of citizens, totally lose sight of the meaning of humanity, mistaking it for a mere artificial creation of the mind. As it follows, the governed citizen receives coldly the laws that ignore his own personality. Furthermore, positive society, disgusted and weary of maintaining a connection of this kind to the state, decades into a state of moral nature, in which public power is nothing but one more party, ignored and cheated on by those who think it necessary and respected solely by those who cannot do without it. A state constitution nears perfection the more it manages to create unity without suppressing diversity. The political artist has to treat his material with respect not only subjectively as a deceptive effect on the senses, but also objectively, having to spare man’s peculiarity and personality. Thus, the mechanical artist manipulates the formless mass to give it a form according to his intention without any scruples in doing violence to it – for the nature he works on does not deserve respect in itself; the artist of fine arts sets his hand on the same mass with as little scruple in doing violence to it, but avoiding to show that violence, because, even though he does not respect the matter on which he works any more than the mechanical artist, his eye takes the matter under its protection and wants it free. The political artist, however, Friedrich Schiller concludes, has to respect his object, since man is at once his material and his end, where the end meets in the material and the parts subject themselves to the end only because the whole serves the parts. The state serves the purpose of a representative of the pure and objective type of humanity that the citizens carry in their hearts and has to observe the same relation to its citizens that the citizens cultivate 4 Ibidem, Letter VI, p. 265; 76 J. C. Friedrich von Schiller. Aesthetics and Politics toward themselves. Moreover, in the character of the people there must not be a contradiction between the subjective man and the objective man in that only the oppression of the former could give victory to the latter; the state must observe the law and repress without compromise any individuality hostile to the interest of his citizens. The ideal state that Friedrich Schiller proposes is what he calls the aesthetic state. In the aesthetic state, man must appear to man only as form, as an object of free play based on the fundamental law To give freedom through freedom5. Three defining features are identified by the philosopher when it comes to the aesthetic state: particular receptivity, particular activity and aesthetic communication. When considering particular receptivity, Friedrich Schiller identifies the role of the state as making society possible, pure and simple, by “taming nature through nature”6. The state’s particular activity aims to subject the will of the individual to the general will in order to make society morally necessary; it is aesthetic communication alone that can carry out the general will through the nature of the individual and thus accomplish true society, given that the two natures of man, the sensuous and the spiritual, coexist. To arrive at a practical solution in the political problem, one must take the road of aesthetics because, in Schiller’s opinion, it is only through beauty that we arrive at freedom. This can only be demonstrated if we first know the principles by which reason is guided in political legislation; for, although in its aesthetic state human action is truly free and it is free to the highest degree from any constrictions, it is not, nevertheless, beyond laws. Experience, however, only shows us individuals in their particular states and not humanity in its whole, therefore we have to search and find the absolute and the permanent in this variety of individual ways of being and appearing, we have to perceive the necessary conditions of individual existence by suppressing all casual limits. How humanity is possible or how beauty can be, neither reason nor experience can teach us, says the philosopher; because beauty is the common object of the two impulses or instincts and is best expressed through the concept of play; in playing, man finds himself between law and necessity. Through play the philosopher designates all that which is neither subjectively nor objectively accidental and yet does not impose necessity either externally 5 Ibidem, Letter XXVII, p. 350; 6 Ibidem, p. 350; Cristina GELAN 77 or internally. It is only play that renders man complete and develops his double nature. Making the beautiful a mere play does not involve a degradation of beauty; restricting the beautiful, which is regarded as an element of culture, to mere play is not in contradiction with the dignity of beauty, if we look at the idea of play as it was expressed by Johan Huizinga7 also, and if we see man as the homo ludens providing the art of life. Relating to the aesthetic state by means of the concept of play does not entail a limitation but an enlargement: for no error is incurred if, in wanting to discover the ideal of beauty in man, one follows the same road on which man satisfies his play-impulse. For instance, the Olympic games of the Greeks are bloodless contests of strength, speed and swiftness, an expression of the noble battle of talents, while the Roman contests are a gloating expression of the gladiator’s bloody agony. The play impulse unites the impulse of nature, of life, and of form and through this union beauty is achieved. In the play lies the basis of aesthetic art and, implicitly, of the art of life, as man is only completely a man when he plays. Both the material impulse, and the formal impulse have their role in knowledge as one is related to the reality of things, while the other, to their necessity; in action, the former aims to the preservation of life, while the latter aims to the preservation of dignity, and both are oriented towards truth and perfection. The two dominating impulses which govern human life may set man in contradiction with himself in two ways: either as a savage, when his feelings rule over his principles; or as a barbarian, when his principles corrupt his feelings. In the first case, the individual despises art and acknowledges nature as his absolute ruler; in the second case, the individual laughs at nature and, with more contempt than the savage, often proceeds “to be the slave of his senses”8. The two extremes of human degeneracy, Friedrich Schiller believes, are reunited in the present age: on the one hand, a return to savagery, on the other hand, a sweet lethargy. The solution the philosopher proposes to surpass this state, this drama of the present time as he himself calls it, is to teach the individual to conduct himself according to aesthetic principles. For, through beauty, the 7 Huizinga, Johan, Homo ludens.A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Humanitas, Bucureşti, 1998, pp. 99-155; 8 Idem 6, Letter V, p. 259; 78 J. C. Friedrich von Schiller. Aesthetics and Politics subjective man shall be led to form and thought, and the spiritual man shall be brought back to matter and restored to the world of the senses. Beauty shall quench life’s turmoil for the child of nature and shall smooth his transition from feeling to ideas; as for the child of civilization, it will arm the abstract form with a sensuous force and it will bring back concept to intuition and law to feeling. The aesthetic disposition of the soul first gives birth to freedom. Understanding freedom means understanding the so-called free disposition of man, an intermediate disposition in which the soul is no longer constrained, physically or morally. According Friedrich Schiller, all things that can appear in phenomena can be thought of in different relations: they can be related directly to our sensuous state, thus having access to the logic constitution of the thing; or they can be related to will, being considered objects of our free choice, in which case we speak of a moral constitution of things; or they can be related to the ensemble of our various faculties, without being a determined object for any of them taken separately, in which case we speak of the aesthetic constitution of things. Given the four different relations in which things appearing in phenomena can be thought of, man should permanently aim at the aesthetic stage, for only beauty brings with itself the oblivion of limitations by passing beyond daily determiners, as the good and the truth are solely conditions and renunciations, the former attaining happiness only with certain conditions, and the latter being acquired only at the cost of renunciation. To reach the aesthetic state or to perceive the aesthetic constitution of things, man has to pass through a moment free of any determination, to go back to the negative stage of pure indetermination, a stage in which he was found before his senses were affected or impressed by something. This implies a labour difficult to render, since, with the passing to the stage of thought, a logical or moral necessity must replace the physical, and, ultimately, these too must be surpassed in order to reach a state of pure indetermination, expressed in what the philosopher calls the aesthetic stage. What we are speaking of is basically a free disposition, seen as an intermediary disposition in which the soul is not constrained either physically or morally, yet is active in both ways, a disposition identified with the beauty which Friedrich Schiller describes as follows in one of his Letters: Beauty is indeed “the sphere of unfettered contemplation and reflection; beauty conducts us Cristina GELAN 79 into the world of ideas, without however taking us from the world of sense…It is at once form and life, state and act…It demonstrates that the physical determination of man does not suppress the moral one and proves the compatibility of the two natures, the possible realization of the infinite in the finite, and consequently also the possibility of the most sublime humanity”9. A clarification that the philosopher considers necessary is that of regarding beauty as a rational concept, leaving aside the experimental conception of beauty, which may lead into error. The rational concept of beauty, which can still be deduced from pure humanity, may fulfil itself in an aesthetic state, underlines Friedrich Schiller, which is the only state where the ideal of equality can be achieved. This aesthetic state, as the philosopher describes it, is actually a stage which humanity still has to reach: “Does such a state of beauty in appearance exist, and where? It must be in every finely harmonized soul; but as a fact, only in select circles, like the pure ideal of the church and state - in circles where manners are not formed by the empty imitations of the foreign, but by the very beauty of nature; where man passes through all sorts of complications in all simplicity and innocence, neither forced to trench on another’s freedom to preserve his own, nor to show grace at the cost of dignity”10. The evolution of the political should be understood in close connection with the disposition of each individual to rise above the arbitrary, physical or moral, constraints; it should be understood as the attempt of the individual to reach an ideal, which would raise him to the heights of his claims as a rational being. This is the philosopher’s creed: “Humanity has lost its dignity, but art has saved it, and preserves it in marbles full of meaning; truth continues to live in illusion, and the copy will serve to re- establish the model”11; and here is his appeal: “Live with your age, but be not its creation; labour for your contemporaries, but do for them what they need, and not what they praise”12. 9 Idem, Letter XXV, p. 334; 10 Idem, Letter XXVII, pp. 351-352; 11 Idem, Letter IX, p. 275; 12 Idem, p. 277.
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