Were a soulful, truth-seeking, passionate Russian philosopher to deeply inquire of an American (perhaps even one of its pragmatic businessman) concerning the “American Idea” – understandably to compare it to the “Russian Idea” – amidst any reply would invariably be found mention (less or more historically circumspect, intellectually knowledgeable and philosophically accurate) of portions of what some scholars have come to call the “American Creed” – written in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1776 by the thirty-three year old Thomas Jefferson, and now famous around the world. In noteworthy fact, when it was written, neither Jefferson, nor the others of the Second Continental Congress’ appointed drafting-committee of five (amongst whom were Benjamin Franklin and John Adams), had any idea that portions of its text would come to play such a crucial, definitive role in two subsequent centuries of the USA’s national life, culture, society, and history, etc. – in short, the “American Idea”:
“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
Words and phrases from this beginning to the American Declaration of Independence, from the beginning of the USA, are still spoken, discussed and written about thousands of times each day in the USA – and, indeed, often around the world (by various peoples, groups, and nations searching for a new social order in a time sometimes named Pax Americana, but now perhaps more accurately called “global material civilization”.
“When someone speaks of the “idea(s)” which, in principle, gives the USA some sort of common, shared national idea of itself, words and phrases from the Declaration of Independence (constituting the “American Creed”) and the US Constitution are, obviously, most often cited.
Yet if the Russian scholar were to inquire further – following, for example, the philosophical lead (not of Karl Marx, or Adam Smith, but) of Vladimir Solovyov:
The idea of a nation is not something it thinks of itself throughout time, but something God thinks of it throughout eternity. – “What does God think of America?”, most Americans, perhaps for a moment or two flustered and disoriented by the question, would likely respond something like: “How should I know [what God thinks of America]?!” – the character and content of the response showing that the question is somewhat strange and unexpected, foreign, perhaps even a bit preposterous; and that the American, characteristically, has previously made little or no attempt (nor conceived such a query seriously), as to think about the USA sub specie aeternitatis (under the sight of eternity), i.e., let us understand this as: within some greater meta-historical, metaphysical, intellectual system or view of Mankind in History, World, Cosmos, etc. Parts of the answers to the unusual question would also include (using a common way of expression in the USA): “America stands for...” freedom (liberty), prosperity, democracy, equality, equal opportunity, free enterprise, the “American Dream”, etc.
Since the “Second World War” the President of the United States of America has been widely seen to be one of the world’s most powerful individuals, to hold one of the most powerful positions in all of human history – in secular, earthly power that is. And, related to the question of the “American Idea”, the current US President, William Jefferson Clinton – who should be in this powerful position during the millennial transition, from the 2nd to the 3rd “millennium” – on November 29, 1995, stated the following:
“From our birth, America has always been more than just a place. America has embodied an idea that has become the ideal for billions of people throughout the world. Our founders said it best: America is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“In this century especially, America has done more than simply stand for these ideals. We have acted on them and sacrificed for them. Our people fought two world wars so that freedom could triumph over tyranny. After World War I, we pulled back from the world, leaving a vacuum that was filled by the forces of hatred.
“After World War II, we continued to lead the world. We made the commitments that kept the peace, that helped to spread democracy, that created unparalleled prosperity and that brought victory in the Cold War.
“Today, because of our dedication, America’s ideals – liberty, democracy and peace – are more the aspirations of people everywhere in the world. It is the power of our ideas, even more than our size, our wealth and our military might, that makes America a uniquely trusted nation.”
Though America’s ideals vary – even in this speech by a US President within the space of a few paragraphs – they assume and present certain ideas of man and life from Western intellectual history which live on today, giving the USA, and the “American Idea”, a more “philosophic” aspect than the actual, socially-constituting US Constitution itself does. Its ideals – especially those most often cited:
all men are created equal,
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – express ideas of the “American Creed” as somehow ultimate as to man and life in America (though in fact, and Jefferson would agree, they are at most penultimate as to the ultimate nature of the man, society, life, and God, in America).
The author of these words, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), aside from a brief, youthful period during which, as he himself later described it, he was fond of metaphysical speculation, until his death on July 4th 1826 (fifty years to the day upon which Congress signed the Declaration of Independence), disbelieved that man was capable of insight into what he in a private letter (while President of the USA) called “the country of spirits” – preferring to rest his head on what he described to his long-time friend and colleague John Adams, as a soft
pillow of ignorance (letter of March 14, 1820). And though Jefferson could not temperamentally, or intellectually, accept for examples: Plato’s “foggy visions”, St. Paul’s “corruptions”, Athanasius’ “metaphysical insanity”, or Dante’s dreams, accepting rather the earthly “soft pillow”; he was nonetheless a bibliophile, serious scholar, Newtonian scientist and convinced Deist. He wrote to the Reverend Isaac Story on December 5, 1801:
The laws of nature have withheld from us knowledge of the country of spirits, and left us in the dark as it were. Knowing nothing of Newton’s actual, long-term, secret interest and study of such subjects as Alchemy, Biblical chronology, Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, Pythagorianism, etc., Jefferson tended more, in his extensive library, towards readings in history, science and nature, than towards studies in philosophy and theology, in his life-long efforts to deepen his understanding of man and world.
So the “American Creed” – essential to any serious approach to the question of the “American Idea” sub specie aeternitatis (or merely within Occidental Intellectual History) – was written by an individual (who later stated that he tried to express the American mind of the time) who did not attempt to make claims as to the ultimate ideas of man and world. In fact, Jefferson’s “Enlightenment” anthropology and cosmology are immanential – his ideas of nature, God (
nature’s God), society, history, life (
pursuit of happiness(45)), man (
all men are created equal), etc., were written with a presumption that mankind can only properly live, know, understand and be in this world, as the quote above clearly indicates. So that, should any Americans try to think, consider, or describe the “American Idea”, when using the “American Creed”, they are using ideas which are essentially not metaphysical or meta-historical, not part of some greater, ultimate philosophical/religious view of man and life in the USA in the world or cosmic history – beyond “Enlightenment” Deism that is. Still, as Jefferson’s correspondence with John Adams makes clear, during the last decade and a half of his life, he believed firmly that after death he would look down “from the clouds above” knowing the results of his earthly life, and perhaps, as he himself expressed it, be amused at his “guesses” and the “nothingness” of “labors” in the earthly life. But that which the older Jefferson came to view as “guesses”, became, over time, for many millions of American unto this very day, the established national answer, concerning not only the “American Idea”, but also as to the very essence, meaning and goal of human life in this world (at least as often semi-reflectively seen by Americans).
Before Thomas Jefferson had come to write his now famous 1776 phrases (which would only much later come to be described as the “American Creed”), he had been exposed, in the five tedious volumes of Lord Bolingbroke’s Philosophical Works, to a thorough and skeptical consideration of all of the then-known philosophical, metaphysical, and religious systems, old and new, in the world. This included not only such obvious subjects as the various branches of Christianity; the Jewish religion and its heterodox branches; Islam and its mystics; Hermeticism; Neoplatonism; portions of Egyptian and Persian lores; but also most essential, related subjects were at least touched upon therein: immaterial spiritual hierarchies above man, affecting human history, and governing the three lower animal, plant and mineral realms; the path to gnosis; that man had a spiritual emanation of the Divine Mind (Bolingbroke), and “spiritual bodies” (e.g. so-called “astral”, “etheric” – whereby they were kin to the lower realms of nature) above and beyond the physical body; about reincarnation; about the myth of the fall of man from, and the possible re-ascent to, the spiritual worlds, etc. In addition, in Bolingbroke – which we know Jefferson seriously read from the numerous extracts he copied into his personal notebooks of the period – was even also to be found critical, discounting consideration given to Hindu religious ideas, Buddhism (then known as “Fo”), pagan-aboriginal beliefs, and also Rosicrucianism. This critical philosophical treatment by Bolingbroke had a deep impact on the world-view of the young Thomas Jefferson while a student at the College of William and Mary – and that until his death in 1826 (into the “country of spirits”). Indeed, Jefferson would at least thrice in his long life full of reading and study, be exposed to the world’s systems of religions, philosophies, metaphysics, etc.: Bolingbroke’s influence continued into later years via Jefferson’s re-reading of his works; the comparisons of Christianity and other religions in the works of Jefferson’s friend Joseph Priestley; and William Enfield’s “judicious abridgment of [Johann] Brucker’s History of Philosophy” (Jefferson), would all bring substantial exposures vital to Jefferson’s own intellectual position (as well as to understanding his position in Occidental intellectual history). However, none of these three extensive treatments much altered Jefferson’s fundamental, immanential beliefs and attitudes about man, which are already discernible in his notebooks from his study at the College of William and Mary, and consistently held, though, of course, developed and enhanced throughout his life, by the serious reader Thomas Jefferson.
So that when the question is of America and tradition, and a Russian inquires à la Solovyov of the “American Idea” – the “American Creed” cannot properly be recognized or understood aside from a substantive comprehension of Jefferson’s “Enlightenment” ideas of man, life and world, and/or their place in what is sometimes now in America called “Western Intellectual History”.
In this author’s view, Jefferson’s immanential “Enlightenment” anthropology, and his ideas and ideals of life, man and world – articulated in the Declaration of Independence, and become the “American Creed” – are inadequate, even anachronistic ideas, as to the spirit and nature of man and world, for the spiritual, intellectual, cultural and social life of humanity in the USA (and not only there). (“Humanity” here in the sense not only of America having people from all of the “nations” of the world amongst its many citizenry, but also in the sense of its having examples of nobility and ignobility, sacrifice and selfishness, high-striving and debased desires, etc.) With the ideas and ideals of man and life in the “American Сreed”, one cannot – so this author sees it – even begin to deeply understand or explain the history or even daily life of humanity in the USA. (Dante’s hierarchical anthropology is closer to explaining daily US news, than Jefferson’s, or the Enlightenment’s, ideas of human equality come close to being.)
The attempt to understand America as a story, the “American Idea” within the History of the world (and
the Westward Course of Empire), in itself is doomed to failure without knowing the central ideas’ positions in history – for most of America’s ideas (and not only ideas) are of course derived from elsewhere. It is not adequate – so I argue – to do some mere excellent scientific, academic analysis (social, political, economic, demographic, etc.,) of the USA, as it were, sub specie scientiatis (under the sight of science), to understand America’s place in world history. Nor is it adequate to merely look at post-”Medieval”, “modern” Europe – for the ideas alone go back, of course, much further than this. And in fact, it is not adequate even to return merely to Roman and Greek cultures and civilizations – however greatly they have fundamentally influenced the ideas and the political foundations of the USA in the US Constitution for example (the “Founding Fathers” and Jefferson as well). It is also inadequate to seek the ultimate explanation of the USA today by claiming, fervently, the so-called “Judaeo-Christian” religious sources of American culture and life. And here we come to the historical crux of the matter. It is popular among historians, to begin a history of the Western world, and, in this case, the ultimate sources of American civilization, in the so-called “Ancient Near East”. Generally some pages are spent examining the cultures, social structures, major historical figures, superstitious beliefs and polytheistic myths of such places as Sumeria, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt, Asia Minor (Ionia), et al. But, in fact, it is all done with the modern scientific attitude of not only detachment, but also semi-reflective disbelief. So that a quick, “Enlightenment” rush is made over these “superstitious”, credulous cradle-origins of Western Civilization, and one commonly then meets the first “acceptable, real” sources (e.g. “Ionian Philosophy”) and heroes (e.g. Aristotle) of “Western” identity and culture in, again, the “Enlightenment’s” versions of Graeco-Roman and/or Judaeo-Christian stories, which are the current pith and substance of our generally-accepted and -taught collective “history” – our Western “roots”, to use an expression popular in the USA today, and made unpalatable, to serious students of history, by its use by demi-literates of all sorts. If one is seeking the deepest sense and meaning of Mankind’s story – one must trace back the origin of something to its very earliest beginning(s), though this is seldom adequately or consequently done, especially when history, world and man is viewed sub specie scientiatis – as it is mostly done by academics and “intellectuals” worldwide. The furthermost origins of “Western Civilization and Culture” (and those characteristics, beyond geographical, which have it defined as “Western”) are much older and deeper, interesting and relevant (today), than most modern professors of history, and tomes of history. They give a most paltry and inadequate detached and disbelieving version. The history of mankind is far greater and deeper than such skeptical “historical versions” convey – or at least much more serious and mysterious.
The deepest spiritual and intellectual “roots” of American Culture and Civilization are little so seen and appreciated today, by the ruling skeptical, academic science. Consider the humanist American historian Page Smith’s words from his Killing the Spirit: Higher Education in America:
“By 1900 the [American] university had cast out every area of investigation and every subject that could not be subsumed under the heading “scientific” and had made all those that remained (like literature and philosophy) at least profess to be scientific. Excluded were such ancient and classic human concerns as love, faith, hope, courage, passion, compassion, spirituality, religion, fidelity – indeed, one is tempted to say, anything that might be somewhat encouraging to young people to receive some direction...a philosophy of life.”
Yet, as Henry David Thoreau went back to nature, so he also in his studies searched back into man’s spiritual beginnings, and in the deep and insightful chapter entitled “Reading” in his popular-unpopular Walden he wrote:
“The solitary hired man on a farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, travelled the same road and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal, and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said to have invented and established worship among men.” (Italics added)
To make the same point, of a search for the deepest spiritual and intellectual origins, consider this quote from a very important and revealing letter, from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, of October 4, 1813 [most archaic spelling and punctuation in original is retained, in this citation, and others to follow]:
“...Moses says, Genesis. I.27 “God created man in his own image.” What then is the difference between Cleanthes and Moses? Are not the Being and Attributes of the Supream Being: The Resemblance, the image the Shadow of God in the Intelligence, and moral qualities of Man, and the Lawfulness and duty of Prayer, as clearly asserted by Cleanthes as by Moses? And did not the Chaldeans, the Egyptians the Persians the Indians, the Chinese, believe all this, as well as the Jews and Greeks?
“Alexander appears to have behaved to the Jews, as Napoleon did to the Mahometans in the Pyramid of Grand Cairo. Ptolemy the greatest of his Generals, and a greater man than himself was so impressed with what he learned in Judea, that he employed 70 learned Men to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, nearly 300 Years before Christ. He sent learned Men to collect Books from all Nations and deposited them in the Alexandrian Library. Will any man make me believe that Caesar, that Pompey, that Cicero, that Seneca, that Tacitus, that Dionisius Hallicarnarnassensis, that Plutarch, had never seen nor heard of the Septuagint [a pre-Christian, Greek version of the Old Testament, which was also used by Greek-speaking Christians]? Why, might not Cleanthes, have seen the Septuagint? The Curiosity of Pompey to see, the interior of the temple shews that the system of the Jews, was become an object of Speculation. It is impossible to believe, that the Septuagent, was unknown and unheard of by Greeks or Romans at that time, at least by the great Generals, Orators, Historians, Philosophers, and Statesmen, who looked through the then known World, for information on every thing. On the other hand how do We know how much Moses Samuel Joshua David Solomon and Esdrass, Daniel Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah learned in Babilon, Egypt and Persia? The Destruction of the Library at Alexandria, is all the Answer We can obtain to these Questions. I believe that Jews Grecians Romans and Christians all conspired, or connived At that Savage Catastrophy.
“...But enough of my School Boy criticisms and crude philosophy, problematical History and heretical Divinity for the present. John Adams”
Here, in these quotes, from two very different Americans – which could easily be supplemented by more, American or otherwise – concerning “problematical History”, we find a search for the West’s and America’s sources in its most ancient beginnings: “Babilon, Egypt and Persia”.
In the mass American “cultural illiteracy”, ahistoria and leveling “equality” which has so obviously, at least in the second half of the twentieth-century (if not before), swamped almost all of American cultural and intellectual life, it is disturbingly rare in America to be able to encounter much of a soulful, humanly truth-seeking, seriously- and substantially-learned spiritual/intellectual (in distinction from denominational/religious/doctrinal, or scientific, specialized or merely intellectual) discussion, knowledge and understanding of the problem and question of the “American Idea” sub specie aeternitatis. The “leading” academics in the USA are very often spiritually beholden –
courtier-like (Thoreau) – to their big salaries, and the state, for their positions and “daily bread” (BMWs included), and are, in any case, most often – even catastrophically in the “Humanities” – cowered by Science, skepticism, secularism and, especially, ostrich-like narrow specialization. So that profoundly little humanly spiritually-challenging, intellectually-disruptive, or radical thought or mind is to be expectable and dependable from such sources. If there are some few solitary “Emersons” or “Thoreaus”, smoldering and suffering in America today; if the (above-mentioned) mass malaises of America culture were and are not sufficient to hinder or prevent their influence and impact, the “spiritually anemic”, “secularly contented” character of academia (and their “publish or perish” publications), and recent popular, aggressive, egalitarian, leveling “politically correct” pluralism surely would. (For they, the “Emersons” and “Thoreaus”, along with a host of great others in history – such as Zoroaster, Origen [ca. 185- ca. 254 A.D., Greek writer, teacher, Church Father], Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, et al – are looked upon as being “dead white Western men”, and therefore necessarily wrong and worthless, at least to some of the more obscene and stupid “politically correct” cliques and crowds in the USA today. This author is reminded of one of Goethe’s quotes by Eckermann (March 22, 1831):
...for wherein does barbarism consist, unless in not appreciating what is excellent.)
It was the so-called “Enlightenment”, the “Age of Reason”, which (perhaps unavoidably?, necessarily?) broke the old tradition of the philosophia perennis (“perennial philosophy”) – for which revival of recognition, understanding and actualization today this essay argues. While the philosophia perennis (perennial philosophy) received this name via the 1540 work of Augustino Steuco, the tradition of which he wrote is much older. For single documentary instance, if one considers Werner Jaeger’s Aristotle, one will find in his examination of Aristotle’s work “On Philosophy”, the idea clearly stated that Plato considered his teachings to be a revival of the Magian/Zoroastrian lore of man and world; in fact, for it to be a vital, necessary part of a cosmic history of man, wherein certain spiritual truths repeat themselves in the different periods of human time. The founders of the Florentine “Platonic Academy”, inspired in part by the lectures of the Neoplatonist and “perennial philosopher” Georgios Gemisthus Plethon (1355–1450/52) (the name based on Plato), held similar views as to the meaning and mission of their own “renaissance”. One can find kindred ideas even in Sir Isaac Newton, in his voluminous materials (written in his own hand) related to the philosophia perennis the “dark side” of this first “real scientist”. Bolingbroke also clearly presented and rejected the “perennial philosophical” tradition (though he did not mention Steuco by name, nor use this exact Latin phrase). (And a quotation very nearby, in Jefferson’s notebooks, just after Bolingbroke had quoted Plato on the higher, divine knowledge of the “ancients”, proves that Jefferson had been exposed to this idea of the philosophia perennis.)
The story of Man in Western Civilization was seen, in the philosophia perennis, as having, ultimately, spiritual sources, meaning and mission; and the truths of man, nature and cosmos were thought to have derived from a spiritual source at the very earliest origins of what later came to be called “Western Civilization”. As Bolingbroke somewhat sarcastically wrote on this, in regards to Plato,
he has recourse to tradition, and to the authority of the ancients, who were born of gods, and knew their parents extremely well. (Here is the problem of the origin, and first separation, of the so-called “Indo-European Culture” into Orient (initially Hindu) and Occident (initially Persian), both historical directions of which are much more related to American cultural conditions today than most academics today historically, intellectually or spiritually bother to worry.) As Thoreau (popularly-unpopularly) wrote:
Zoroaster, thousands of years ago...is even said to have invented and established worship among men. And indeed, many of the deepest ideas of man, nature, good and evil, as well as much of Western theology and philosophy can be seen to have been first articulated, in the greater story of Western Man, in what we label “Zoroastrianism”. In a letter from John Adams to Jefferson of May 26, 1817, we see him searching for such a greater historical understanding – which he provisionally found in the “Antient Indians”:
“In the 11th. Discourse of Sir William Jones before the Asiatic Society Vol. 3. p. 229. Of his Works, We find that Materialists and Immaterialists existed in India and that they accused each other of Atheism, before Berk[e]ly or Priestley, or Dupuis, or Plato, or Pythagoras were born. Indeed Neuton [sic] himself, appears to have discovered nothing that was not known to the Antient Indians. He has only furnished more ample demonstrations of the doctrines they taught...”
That which calls itself Christianity today – and actually all major religions and philosophies of Western Civilization – are fundamentally influenced or founded on ideas first present in the West in the Persian Zarathustran cosmosophy. Indeed, Christianity presumes “Zoroastrianism” as a fundamental basis of its ideas – however unpalatable its cosmic and gnostic characteristics is to the popular faith-bound character of modern Church Christianity. The influence of the Zarathustran system is sometimes mentioned, and then forgotten, dismissed or neglected, even by religious scholars (who are often also church-, state- and/or science-bound), not to consider the religions’ teachers and priests, preachers and ministers, rabbis, etc. One has only to consider that the idea of “Christ” came from the Hebrew messiah, which itself derived (during the “Babylonian Captivity”) from the Zoroastrian idea of saoshyant, to recognize the inextricable relationship of Zarathustra to Christianity. Even the American M. L. King, Jr. in his famous “I have a dream” speech (1963) on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C., USA, made references which source ultimately, via the Bible (from which King had them), in the images of Zoroastrian cosmic chronology.
The Western philosopher, Goethe scholar, and later seer Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), who viewed and lectured on the history of mankind within, to say it somewhat awkwardly, the “spiritual cosmos of Dionysius the Areopagite and Dante”, described the common view of human history in our time as a
convenient fable, wherein Steiner meant that a secular, earthly comprehension of human history, which had come to be present in history books, intellectual circles and the popular mind, was more a symptom of current human spiritual and cultural conditions and limitations, than the history of man sub specie aeternitatis – and in regards to which Steiner’s lectures clearly belong to the Western “perennial philosophical” tradition (i.e. not the Enlightenment and disbelieving science, nor some revived neo-Orientalism in Western garb).
What is very interesting historically is that the tradition and idea of the philosophia perennis was, as it were, “broken” by the new view of man, history, nature and “philosophy” inseparable from the growth of science: the “Enlightenment”, the “Age of Reason”. (One scholar wrote of Jefferson, that
he was one of the most devoted disciples of the Age of Reason.) As the late nineteenth-century scholar Otto von Willmann wrote, in the beginning of his little-known but very rich substantial work Geschichte des Idealismus (1894) in the chapter entitled “Ancient Beginnings to Philosophy”:
“Thus the claims of the Greeks, which found in the Brahmans, Magi, Chaldeans, and the so-called “Jews in Syria” not only an ancient wisdom, but also “attributed to them all teachings about nature” (Clement of Alexandria), are no longer to be rejected as unbelievable; nor are the claims of later scholars, like Marsiglio Ficino, Augustino Steuco, Gerhard Voss, Ralph Cudworth, Thomas Gale, et al, who tried to show religious teachings and pre-historical traditions as the background of Greek philosophy, so easily to be seen as false and idle. These traditions, which were broken during this time period, were less followed, not because they had revealed themselves as unfruitful, but rather because the Enlightenment had brought a different understanding of ancient philosophy into circulation. One came to understand “philosophy” as “unconditional science” (voraussetzungslose Wissenschaft), as a creation of an individual’s intellect, which rules in the realm of thinking as a sovereign lord, therewith forgetting to recognize that a thinker should, without hindering his creative thought, also work with the inheritance, the treasures of wisdom from the past, so that his creation has a continuity with the Grecian philosophy of antiquity and the following spiritual life of Christianity. A history of idealism can not lose sight of this continuity...”
The new philosophy, the new science, as it gradually rejected (by “enlightenment”) the religious – more properly speaking, the ancient spiritual (become religious) traditions, knowledge, wisdom, myths, lore, etc., rejected that from the historical past with which it disagreed, finding its own historical origins in those portions of the history of antiquity which contributed to its own development: so that the origin of reason, “philosophy” (and its history), and science, of a “realistic”, scientific view of man, culture, history, etc. – the first rational, scientific thought in Greece, for example – came to be seen as the historical source and origin of “Western Civilization”. When it cast away the spiritual, religious, metaphysical, etc., as “superstition”, nature myth or allegory, euhemerism, fetishism, etc., it also cast away the philosophia perennis – which traced the West back not merely to “rational” Greece and/or perhaps “monotheistic” Moses – but to “Babilon, Egypt and Persia” (John Adams). Yet even so “realistic” a scientist as Newton – though this was discounted, and even suppressed in the first Newton biographies – held a substantive, decades-long, secretive interest and study of all that constitutes the philosophia perennis. Jefferson, who surely knew nothing of this secret, “dark side” (Emilio Segrè – Italian-born American scientist, who worked on the USA’s secret atomic bomb project) of Newton’s scientific interests, had busts of Bacon, Locke and Newton in his Monticello home. Meanwhile the modern “academy”, unlike the Florentine for example, turns to Science (with Sir Isaac Newton as the example?), rather than to the “perennial philosophy”.
Returning to the “American Creed”, in pursuit of the “American Idea”, Jefferson, who was born and raised in the mild-mannered, religion of the Anglican Church in America, met and readily embraced, essentially, the same “Enlightenment” rejection of the philosophia perennis (though he most probably never knew of it by this name), initially, probably, via his college study of Bolingbroke’s Philosophic Works. A scientific, secular view of history, cosmos and man had conquered and replaced the spiritual view of man and time in Western Civilization (the latter view which underlies the more institutionalized, “religious” version of the same story – the deeper tradition beneath the religious doctrines, which very Un-Faustian-like, relied increasingly on “faith alone”). (Interestingly, both Luther and Calvin rejected the tradition and idea of gnosis at the deeper core of the philosophia perennis, in which man was held to be able to come to a knowledge and conscious participation in this greater spiritual story of mankind.) So that the “American Creed” was quite especially distinct from the tradition of the philosophia perennis – Jefferson being at most a “rational Christian”.
Few, very few Americans – of whom a survey in the early part of the last decade of the secularized second millennium A.D. in the USA revealed that 93% believed in
God or a universal spirit – have at all any clear understanding of the above-mentioned relationship of the anthropology, cosmology, theology, view of life, man and history at the basis of their “American Creed”, to the philosophia perennis, or to their own personal, “constitutionally-protected” “free exercise” ultimate religious (sometimes metaphysical, “spiritual”, Oriental, eclectic, idiosyncratic, etc.) ideas of man and world (mostly consisting of ideas derived from the world’s religious traditions doctrines – orthodox or heterodox). Jefferson’s ideas and ideals of man and life – which, again, he did not intend to or imagine would become an “American Creed”, but which historically nevertheless has so developed – are conceived within an “Enlightenment” view of man and world, and are secular and earthly. And while some Americans blend and confuse the immanential “American Creed”, with their own personal or institutional religious-doctrinal, spiritual and otherworldly beliefs and ideas (as well as with the “American Dream”), these differing views of man and world are, when properly and seriously understood, far from being so easily united.
In definitive, historical contrast to the characteristic Oriental “over-worldliness” of Hinduism(s) (with its/their evaluation of world and life (maya) from the view of the Transcendental Self: Brahman-Atman), and to Buddhism(s) (with its/their denial of the individual self: anatman, and quietistic retreat from the world into nirvana), and to the worldwide aboriginal lores’ (so-called “primitive religions”, e.g. Shamanism – Siberian and “Native American”) search for union with the realms of nature and animals (and the lower spirits which are therein believed to govern them) – stands the Occidental, the Western, Zarathustran impulse to redeem, to transubstantiate the world (frasho-kereti) – Origen’s apocatastasis ton panton. Christianity, for example, is, on its deep, serious level (which is to say, seldom in any of the consoling church versions of it) incomprehensible without understanding, what could be called the golden threads which relate it, historically and essentially, to the Zarathustran view of man, world, cosmos and time. As has been mentioned, the concept messiah, from which the idea christus derives, has its acknowledged derivation from the Zarathustran concept of saoshyant; and then there is the origin of the idea of evil and the devil, of the resurrection, of the spiritualization of the world in which process and story Man is a crucial participant, etc.,. Western culture is said to be progressive, temporal, “Faustian”, and both this characterization, as well as Goethe’s Faust are also not fully to be recognized, as a flourishing of Occidental spiritual élan (within the context of all of the history and cultures of the world), without appreciating the thrust and direction of Occidental Man first discernible in, to quote Thoreau again:
Zoroaster... [who] is even said to have invented and established worship among men. Even the source-idea, via the Masonic sun-symbol, and the ideas of Laboulaye, incorporated by F. A. Bartholdi into the “radiant-crown” of the Statue of Liberty (1886), is not to be understood without its ultimate Western source in Zarathustran lore. (Here it is related to the Orthodox Icon, with a saint surrounded by a nimbus or halo, “symbolizing”, as we intellectually “understand” it, the inner spiritual light inside of the earthly skull of Man.) This all quite exceeds the proper “Enlightenment” bounds of the “American Creed”, as well as the world sub specie scientiatis (– though I argue they are essential to understanding the “American Idea” à la Solovyov.
Even Thomas Jefferson’s deep, crucial, anthropological idea of Man’s “conscience” (as the highest, best element in man – a gift from God at that) has its ultimate Western origin – though Jefferson recognized and had it via Seneca, Epictetus, et al. – in the Zarathustran anthropology: the profound, crucial figure of the daena (dhi – to see), so close to Socrates’ daemon, and immediately discernible in Seneca’s idea of “conscience”). It is indicative of the common, secular, “Enlightenment”, scientific view of Jefferson, that when it was pointed out to Charles Sanford, the author of The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville, Virginia, 1984), that Jefferson’s idea of conscience has its ultimate historical Occidental ancestor in the Zarathustran “daena-figure” and how one could, even in a purely scholarly way, find an Oriental reflective counterpart to Jefferson’s idea in (the Indo-European-inspired) Tibetan Buddhism, the idea so far escaped the more doctrinal, “religious” view of man and world of the Jeffersonian scholar, that no further correspondence was pursued.
It is not enough, in the greater context of world history, nor in a period of the meeting of all world cultures, to understand Jefferson as a good “rational Christian”, nor “his” “American Creed” as “religious” and “theistic”, nor merely to save him from being considered an anti-Christian atheist. Jefferson, and “his” “American Creed” must be considered within the greatest contexts and relations in world and intellectual history, if he is to be appropriately understood in our day and time – globalizing civilization and culture (which is beyond a mere meeting of “East” and “West”.
Jefferson never intended, nor imagined, his ideas to be some final idea and ideal, some “creed” of American Man and life, nor some final contribution to the “American Idea” – though the (Baptist) US President’s quote of it, as a definition of the USA before the world in 1995, reveals that more than 20 decades after the Declaration of Independence from England was written, it is still used to understand and explain America – that is, at least on the level of ideas. Though Jefferson himself, in the last decade of his life, mused on his own life and work sub specie aeternitatis. On May 17, 1818 he concluded a letter from Monticello (which mentioned South American revolutions from Spanish imperial rule) to his friend John Adams:
“But these are speculations, my friend, which we may as well deliver over to those who are to see their developement. We shall only be lookers on, from the clouds above, as we now look down on the labors, the hurry, and the bustle of the ants and bees. Perhaps in that super-mundane region we may be amused with seeing the fallacy of our own guesses, and even the nothingness of those labors which have filled and agitated our own time here.
“En attendant, with sincere affections to Mrs. Adams and yourself, I salute you both cordially. Th: Jefferson”
It is anachronistic and spiritually lazy – a popular intellectual condition – to imagine that “Jefferson’s” words, ideas and phrases are adequate to understand and express man and life, even in the USA, at the end of the 20th century. It is incredible to imagine that Jefferson himself would not have come to very different ideas of man and life after the history of the 20th century.
It is not (intellectually, spiritually, or even socially) adequate, so this author argues, to sleep on some “soft pillow of ignorance”, especially about the positions and limitations of Jefferson’s ideas of man and world in Western intellectual and spiritual history, when this is not at least an educated, learned “ignorance” (as it was in Jefferson’s case). Jefferson also believed he would know more, after his death (on July 4, 1826) of answers in the “country of spirits”. The bloody life and death struggle in man in history, between good and evil, spirit and flesh, nobility and ignobility, selfishness and sacrifice – the angel and demon in man – has revealed itself too unavoidably, to seriously continue to chant – unchallenged – a semi-reflective “Enlightenment’s” “American Creed”:
...all men are created equal...life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...all men are created equal...life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...all men are..., etc.
In that (early)
intellectual dialogue of the highest plane achieved in America, i.e. the correspondence between Jefferson and John Adams, Adams often returned, in his letters to Jefferson, to this problem of evil in man, world, history and “heaven”. In his letter of March 3, 1814, wherein he considered such subjects as the “Vedams” of the “Hindoos”, “metempsichosis”, “the rebellion of innumerable Hosts of Angells in Heaven against the Supreme Being”, the gradual return of the fallen spirits to their “Original rank and Bliss in Heaven”, the “Trinity of Pythagoras and Plato, etc., one finds a rationalist’s consideration of these deep questions
speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical to quote Jefferson from August 15, 1820). John Adams was the one, in their mutual correspondence, who continually returned to such “hyperphysical” problems. And while neither of them had any such experiences in their lives as to give any credibility to speculations concerning the “country of spirits”, nonetheless as they grew older, both sides of their correspondence reveal an increasingly awareness of the unknowable “super-mundane” world. Jefferson, November 13, 1818:
“...the term is not very distant at which we are to deposit, in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again.” [This ‘ascent in essence’ is Jefferson’s “enlightened”, diminished anthropological version of the Zoroastrian daena.]
And then again, at the end of Jefferson’s very deep, rich and revealing letter to Adams of April 11, 1823 – on a benevolent, designer God vs. Calvin’s “Daemonism”, the limits and capacities of the human mind, the problem of God as “spirit” citing St. Thomas Aquinas, Origen, Tertullian:
“May we meet there [in God’s world] again, in Congress, with our antient colleagues, and receive with them the seal of approbation ‘Well done, good and faithful servants’.”
Man in the original, seminal Zarathustran anthropology, the base of the Occidental philosophia perennis, the perennial philosophy, was said to not only be a “microcosm”, but also a participant in and of the struggle between good and evil spirits, reflected in the inner life of man. Mild-mannered, middle-class Christian churchmen in the USA (and elsewhere) speak profoundly flatly, and inadequately, of a battle between the “virtues” and “vices” in man. Yet the greater depths of human life, liberty and meaning, compared to that inherent in the “American Creed”, which is to be found in the “perennial philosophy”, can be imagined in the abandoned and anathematized Origen’s anthropology (a crucial participant in the tradition of the philosophia perennis), where the “spiritual hierarchies”, good and evil, appear – like Platonic archetypal ideas – in the struggle between the virtues and vices inside of man. The acuteness of awakeness (and responsibility) to the inner life and being of man in such a “perennial philosophical” anthropology is far more profound than the doctrinal, institutionalized Church Christianity – and certainly far escapes in meaning any proper “Enlightenment” immanential comprehension of all men as “equal”, and an earthly pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. While Jefferson assumed a certain nobility and reasonability in man (at least educated man), and he believed that a just God would judge men and women by their acts in this world, this is quite other, than the deeper, and more serious and profound, abandoned anthropology of the philosophia perennis of which Zarathustra was understood to be the first Western prophet “among men” (Thoreau).
Most Americans are rarely or ever troubled by such impractical, distant, “antiphysical” questions and problems – such seems like strange and distant, overly-complex, irrelevant ideas of history, philosophy and man. Certainly the majority of the large, culturally-preponderate “middle class” in the USA has little if any time and inclination for such worries as the ontological and historical status, position and limitation of their professed “American Creed”. The popular “American Dream”, when it is materially-conceived, gives them plenty of work and distractions from any problems of the “American Creed”, or the “American Idea”. As to academics and intellectuals in the USA...it is mostly sub specie scientiatis, with a salary.
The American system (religious pluralism, liberal democracy, free market economy) is characterized by some as a sort of social historical conclusion, a final model of human society and historical development. Whether human society has, even in this sense, reached some “end of history”, American society in many ways suffers en masse from an inadequate and unclear shared idea of life and world, history and Man, which thereby contributes towards its own intellectual confusion and ill-health, and to its setting a poor example for the world. Nevertheless, the Occidental “perennial philosophy”, and all that it says of man and world, often can be found secreted in parts of American life, world and history – from the Statue of Liberty to the Chrysopylae, the Golden Gate of California. America needs a more adequate, clearer and deeper idea of Man...and it must look very far back for this.
First publication: Американский характер. Традиция в культуре: Очерки культуры США / отв. ред. О.Э. Туганова. – М.: Наука, 1998. – С. 68-98.
1. “Though neither Jefferson nor his contemporaries could foresee it in 1776 the Declaration of Independence was to become the most cherished document in American history, not solely because of its proclamation of independence, but also because of its affirmation of the political principles that would undergird the new American republic.” – Noble Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason: the Life of Thomas Jefferson (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1987), p. 51. Back to text
2. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4th 1994, President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, stated in an address (which, is many aspects, is kindred to the arguments of this essay):
The single planetary civilization to which we all belong confronts us with global challenges. We stand helpless before them because our civilization has essentially globalized only the surface of our lives. But our inner self continues to have a life of its own. And the fewer answers the era of rational knowledge provides to the basic questions of human being, the more deeply it would seem that people, behind its back as it were, cling to the ancient certainties of their tribe. Back to text
3. “The German philosopher Herder called nations
the thoughts of God. A similar notion was developed by the Russian philosopher Vladimir S. Solovyov:
The idea of a nation is not something it thinks of itself throughout time, but something God thinks of it throughout eternity.“ Quotation from the English version of “The Russian Idea and the American Dream”, Tatyana Morozova, in Российский Литературоведческий Журнал [Journal of Studies in Russian Literary History], No. 10 (1997). For the Solovyov quote see: Соловьев В. C. Сочинения в 2-х т. Т.2 – М., 1989. – С. 220. Back to text
4. Concerning the origin and meaning of the expression “American Dream” with the American historian James Truslow Adams, see in Stephen Ludger Lapeyrouse, Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia (Santa Cruz, California, 1990), the chapter “The Spiritual Call in the American Dream”; Стивен Л. Лаперуз, “Миру не нужна вторая Америка”, Москва, 9, 1994, c. 122-129; and Stephen Ludger Lapeyrouse “The Search for the American Dream” in English – Еженедельное Приложение к Газете Первое Сентября” [Weekly Supplement to the Newspaper September First] (Moscow), No. 38, 39, 40, 41, 42 (October–November) 1995. Back to text
5. See “2000 A. D., or Numerological Idolatry”, in English, No. 7 (February) 1997.
6. From US President “Bill” Clinton’s nationally-televised address on November 29, 1995 to the US people, on sending US soldiers as peacekeepers to Yugoslavia. See USIA Wireless File, document: EURO203 11/28/95, p. 3. Back to text
When I was young I was fond of speculations which seemed to promise some insight into the country of spirits, but observing at length that they left me in the same ignorance in which they found me, I have ceased to read concerning them. See Charles Sanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville, Virginia, 1984), p. 9. Also see the 17-part essay: Stephen Ludger Lapeyrouse, “Notes on the Lost Cosmos of American Culture”, part 11: “The Natural Cosmos of the American Creed”, in English, No. 16 (April) 1996. Back to text
8. In Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1987), p. 561-563. Back to text
9. See Charles Sanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, e. g., p. 122 and Lester J. Cappon, for these Jefferson expressions. The position of Sir Isaac Newton in Thomas Jefferson’s intellectual life can be glimpsed via an interesting extract from the latter’s letter from Monticello dated January 21, 1812, to John Adams:
But whither is senile garrulity leading me? Into politics, of which I have taken final leave. I think little of them, and say less. I have given up newspapers for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid; and find myself much the happier. Sometimes indeed I look back to former occurrences, in remembrance of our old friends and fellow laborers, who have fallen before us. Of the signers of the Declaration of Independence I see now living not more than half a dozen on your side of the Potomak [River], and, on this side, myself alone., in Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 291-292. Back to text
10. See Charles Sanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, p. 142. Back to text
11. One of the many insightful interpretations as to the meaning of Jefferson’s expression
all men are created equal can be gleaned from an early critique:
The Scots Magazine of August 1776 reprinted the Declaration of Independence and attached two critical footnotes to it, one to the word “equal”. Concerning the statement that all men are created equal, the hostile critic asks whether they are alleged to be equal in size, strength, understanding, figure, moral accomplishments, or civil accomplishments. ‘Every ploughman...knows that they are not created equal in any of these.’ The critic failed to see that Jefferson, following Locke, thought that “created equal” meant created as members of the same species, and that like Locke, Jefferson certainly did not mean to imply that all men are equal in size, strength, understanding... – Morton White, The Philosophy of the American Revolution, (New York, 1978), p. 74-75. Back to text
12. May 17, 1818 letter to John Adams, in Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 523-525. Back to text
13. The problem of spirit (“immaterialism”– Jefferson) and matter continued to trouble Jefferson from his college days until the end of his life. See for example his letters to John Adams of March 14 and August 15, 1820, in Cappon, The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 561-563 and p. 565-569. These letters are important for judging Jefferson’s life-long world-view, epistemological tendencies, etc. Back to text
14. See Charles Sanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, p. 12, 85. Back to text
15. See e. g., Charles Sanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, p. 89-90 on Jefferson and Joseph Priestley (1733–1804). Priestley wrote for example his A History of the Corruption of Christianity (London, 1782); History of Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ (London, 1786); Doctrines of Heathen Philosophy Compared with Those of Revelation (Northumberland, Pennsylvania, 1804). Back to text
16. Confer Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, Jefferson to Adams October 12, 1813 (p. 383-386) and January 24, 1814 (p. 421-425). These are crucial letters for understanding Jefferson’s attitude towards metaphysical (to use Jefferson’s words) “Nonsense” in “Platonic Christianity” and “Graecian Philosophy”. Brucker’s Historia Critica Philophiae, 6 volumes (1742–1744), was also influential on Kant, Hegel, Goethe, Diderot, et al. Back to text
17. See Chapter “Ex Occidente Lux – Thoughts from America’s Chrysopylae” in my Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia, and Notes thereto. Back to text
18. The term “academic” comes from academy, which via French or Latin from Greek Akademia, the name of a Greek hero of the Trojan War, and the grove and school where Plato taught. Back to text
19. Page Smith, Killing the Spirit: Higher Education in America, (New York, 1990) p. 20. Back to text
20. Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chapter: “Reading”, 1854. Back to text
21. Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 380-383. Back to text
22. Consider this from the Encyclopedia Britannica, article: “American Culture” (Compact Disc, 2.0, 1995):
For most of the 20th century the common quarrel that has absorbed many American artists and thinkers has been one between the values of a mass, democratic popular culture and those of a refined elite culture accessible only to the few – the quarrel between “low” and “high”. In part, this was a problem that science left on the doorstep of the arts: beginning at the turn of the century, the growth of the technology of mass communications--motion pictures, the phonograph, radio and, eventually, television – created a potential audience for stories and music and theatre larger than anyone could previously have imagined. …in the United States the growth and dissemination of the new means of mass communication had a special excitement, for the new machines came not simply as a new or threatening force but also as the fulfillment of an American dream. Mass culture seemed to promise a democratic culture, a cultural life directed not to an aristocracy but to all men and women. It was not that the new machines produced new ideals, but that they made the old dreams seem suddenly a practical possibility….By the mid-20th century, however, many people recoiled in dismay at what had happened to the American arts, high and low. The new technology of mass communications for the most part seemed to have achieved not a generous democratization but a bland homogenization of culture. Many people thought that the control of culture had passed wholly into the hands of advertisers, people who used the means of a common culture just to make money. It was not only that most of the new music and drama that had been made for motion pictures and radio, and later for television, seemed shallow; it was also that the high, or serious, culture that had become available through the means of mass reproduction seemed to have been reduced to a string of popularized hits, which concealed the real complexity of art. Culture, made democratic, had become too easy. Back to text
23. That is to say, they are not the necessarily
divinely discontented. Back to text
24. See a range of opinions on P[olitical] C[orrectness] in Paul Berman, ed., Debating P. C., The Controversy over Political Correctness on College Campuses (New York, 1992). Back to text
‘Niebuhr,’ said Goethe, ‘was right when he saw a barbarous age coming. It is already here, we are in the midst of it; for wherein does barbarism consist, unless in not appreciating what is excellent.’ J. W. Goethe, March 22, 1831, Conversations with Eckermann, trans. John Oxford (San Francisco, 1984), p. 325. (Barlhold Georg Niebuhr, 1776-1831, German historian, statesmen, philologist) Back to text
26. For an entrance into the idea and history of the expression “perennial philosophy”, see the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Vol. III (New York, 1973), p. 457-463. Note that the term “perennial philosophy” is today often associated with Aldous Huxley’s work (partly drug-inspired), and an Oriental, neo-Hinduism version of the “perennial philosophy” is popular, though the original term in Occidental history is an Occidental/Christian version (which recognizes the fall and progressive, historical redemption of the world). Back to text
27. Emelio Segrè a Nobel Laureate of Physics who worked on the Manhattan Bomb Project, in his 1980’s lectures on the History of Physics given at the University of California Berkeley described Newton in this way.) Back to text
28. From The Works of Lord Bolingbroke (London, 1967) (reprint) “Essays on Human Knowledge”, Vol. III, Section IX. Back to text
29. Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 516-518. Back to text
30. In Noble Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason: the Life of Thomas Jefferson, p. 5. Back to text
31. Otto von Willmann’s three-volume Geschichte des Idealismus, Braunschweig, 1894-1897, [History of Idealism; untranslated], written in direct contrast to Lange’s Geschichte des Materialismus (History of Materialism) from the 1890’s is an enormous and rich scholarly work tracing the history and continuity of (what he also termed) the “perennial philosophy” from its earliest beginnings, discernible in the Vedas and Zendavesta, up and onto his late-nineteenth century time. The first two volumes are more than 500 small-print pages, the third – concerning the modern period – is more than 700; all three volumes use all necessary Western languages in his in-depth research and study. This work embraces what Bolingbroke and Brucker rejected – the living tradition of a philosophia perennis. Rudolf Steiner, who was a recent representative of the Occidental “perennial philosophical” tradition, was thoroughly knowledgeable of Willmann’s work. It is symptomatic of “philosophical” conditions in the USA, and the West, that at the University of California Berkeley (a university where science early predominated), that the main library’s copies of Willmann’s rich work had not been “checked out” of the library’s holdings since the 1920’s – a clear indication of the victory of “unconditional science” as “philosophy”, over even a knowledge, study and awareness of the philosophia perennis. (Concerning the influential University of California Berkeley see the chapter “Ex Occidente Lux – Thoughts from America’s Chrysopylae” in my Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia, and also therein Notes 6, 9, 10, 13, 14. Back to text
32. The “perennial philosophical” tradition did have a presence in American and US history, even from the early North American colonial period (e.g. John Winthrop, Jr.), and its presence is more or less clearly discernible in New England Transcendentalism, Mid-West Neoplatonism, and other locations. Back to text
33. See my “America’s Assumption that God is Not Dead, but Sleeping”, in English, No. 31 (August) 1996. Back to text
34. At the conclusion to Goethe’s Faust, Faust said the fatal words:
Linger a while, you are so fair!/ The records of my earthly sojourn/ Are indestructible throughout the aeons of time. (
Verwiele doch, du bist so schön!/ Es kann die Spur von meinen Erdetagen/ Nicht in Äonen untergehn.– Faust, Part 2, lines 11582-11584.) This text assumes an ontology of earthly act which is Occidentally based in Zoroastrian cosmosophy. Tolstoy in his Confessions, Chapter 5, had asked:
My question, the one that brought me to the point of suicide when I was fifty years old, was a most simple one that lies in the soul of every person, from a silly child to a wise old man. It is the question without which life is impossible, as I had learnt from experience. It is this: what will come of what I do today or tomorrow? What will come of my entire life? Expressed another way the question can be put like this: why do I live? Why do I wish for anything, or do anything? Or expressed another way: is there any meaning in my life that will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death which awaits me? (Confessions, trans. Jane Kentish (London, 1987)). Zarathustra’s answer to Tolstoy’s questions are the deepest in the spiritual/intellectual history of Western Man: in the Zarathustran anthropology, cosmology and chronology, all of one’s earthly “thoughts, words and deeds” are effectual not only in the development or degradation of one’s own spiritual self (daena), but on the future of Man, Nature and Cosmos (in which man is a participant in the struggle for the transfiguration of the world. In a very deep and interesting lecture, entitled “Buddha and Christ”, given in Berlin on December 2, 1909, Rudolf Steiner stated the following:
Liberation from the pain of existence stands in the forefront of Buddhism. It makes it possible to describe the religion of Buddha as a religion of redemption from suffering in the highest sense of the word, since all existence is bound up with suffering, it is a redemption above all from continued rebirth. ...If we place Christianity in its correct relation to Buddhism, we can speak of it as a religion of rebirth. Christianity proceeds from the knowledge that everything that, taken together, represents a man in a single life, is fruitful. These fruits have importance and value for his innermost being and are carried over by him into a new life, when they are brought to a higher state of perfection. Everything that we experience and absorb in a single life always appears again and grows ever more toward perfection until it is revealed at last in its true spiritual form. When the apparently worthless in our existence is taken hold of by the spiritual, it is resurrected in a degree more perfect than before and is spiritually embodied. Nothing in existence is really worthless because it rises again if the spirit has entered into it aright. ...all true Oriental culture, that has not been fertilized by the West, is non-historical, whereas Western culture is historical. This is the ultimate root of the difference between the Christian and Buddhistic conceptions....Where Buddhism sees liberation from earthly existence in the ascent to nirvana, Christianity sees as the goal of its evolution that everything engendered and achieved in each earthly life ascends to ever higher degrees of perfection until, spiritualized and transfigured, it consummates its resurrection at the end of the world. (Rudolf Steiner, From Buddha to Christ, trans., Gilbert Church (Spring Valley, New York, 1978), p. 34-36). Back to text
35. Edouard de Laboulaye was an interesting figure in the struggle and philosophy of freedom in the nineteenth century. He was a serious student of the American Christian writer and preacher William Channing, and accepted from him such ideas as
Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and God that which is God’s. Back to text
36. Man derives from the Indo-European root: mens-, to think, and is related to the words: mental, mind, dementia, automatic, Ahriman, comment, reminiscent, Minerva, mentor, mania, mantra, money, monument, demonstrate, muse, Museum, [Ahura] Mazda, manas, Manu, мудрость, see Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (Bern, 1959), v. 3, p. 726. Back to text
37. See Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, v. 1, p. 243. Back to text
38. Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 523-525. Back to text
39. See the back cover of the 1959 edition of The Adams–Jefferson Letters. Back to text
40. Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 426-430. Back to text
41. Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 565-569. Back to text
42. Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 529. Back to text
43. Lester J. Cappon, ed., The Adams–Jefferson Letters, p. 591-594. Back to text
44. A clear articulation in recent times of the Occidental anthropology of the philosophia perennis can be found in the 1904 book of Rudolf Steiner: Theosophie, Einführung in übersinnlich Welterkenntnis und Menschenbestimmung (Berlin, 1904) [Theosophy, An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man, trans. Henry Monges (Spring Valley, New York, 1946)], Chapter 1. The idea of man in this work lives in the spiritual lineage of Zarathustra, Origen, Ficino, et al. Back to text
45. Regarding Jefferson’s own idea of “happiness”, see e.g. Charles Sanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson, p. 35-37, from which a quote: “Happiness, Jefferson believed, was to be found by each person working, studying and developing his talents and abilities in order to fulfill his duty to society. He was constantly urging his young friends and relatives to be studious and make good use of their opportunities. He deplored the charming indolence of many of his aristocratic, horse-racing friends”. Certainly Jefferson’s expression “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has been “understood” and pursued, in many, many ways – including by people who passionately proclaim their American “rights” to his ideals – that Jefferson would have readily found morally deplorable. So here, such Americans do not live up to the standards of the author of their professed and defended immanential “creed”. Back to text
46. See Stephen Ludger Lapeyrouse, Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia, notes numbers 5-14, p. 119-123. Back to text