Responsibility and History

Responsibility and History

You say,” says the Intellectual to his opponent, the Revolutionary, “that at a certain historical moment the specific interest of the working class becomes completely identified with the interests of all of mankind and not only preserves human values but is the only force capable of saving them. But what proofs do you have for this assertion, apart from a vague historico-philosophic speculation? What right do I have, in the name of that speculative dialectic of the future, to renounce at present the highest values of human existence? And experience so far does not confirm your optimism—on the contrary, it shows that this specific interest, as you understand it, is often realized contrary to all human values. And here are examples … The first, the second, the thousandth….

“If you represent a certain historical reality, on what basis do you ask me to affirm it morally? Just because it is a reality? I will not support any form of historical existence solely because somebody persuades me that it is unavoidable—even if I believed in its unavoidability, for which at present there is no evidence. If crime is the law of history, is the realization of this law reason for me to become a criminal? Why should that be so? You do not let me measure your moves with a measuring rod of absolute values because, in your opinion, such values either do not exist at all or are purely imagined. But on the other hand, you yourselves talk about human values which must be absolute; thus, silently, you introduce into your doctrine axiomatic absolutism in a vague and equivocal way in order to destroy it immediately with equally equivocal ‘historical relativism.’ With this package you come to me demanding that I should immediately renounce all the highest creations of human culture because your doctrine promises to return them to me intact after an indefinite period of time.

“Therefore, you demand for your own historical philosophy and your own history unlimited moral credit although at every step they both unmask their insolvency. You, who rashly agree to give up everything to the Moloch of current reality in the unjustified hope of having it returned— you do not voice a philosophy of responsibility; he who really wants to be responsible for the treasures which human history has discovered will defend them at all costs—i.e., also at the cost of separating himself from the chaos of current struggle if they can be preserved only outside the battlefield.”