The problem of the New Man1
By Boris Mouravieff
The image of this world passes. Everything changes. Before our own eyes, these changes undermine the very bases of the old order. Technical progress pursues its march at a rhythm that is more and more accelerated, and no one will be able to stop or slow it down. The – quasi unlimited – new sources of energy and the automation of industrial production modify in its entirety the aspect of life and of human society.
This being the case, it’s no temerity to say that in a non-too distant future, the “struggle for existence” – that great regulator of human life – will pass to the domain of historical souvenirs. By the very fact of his birth, man will be endowed with all that he needs to live. Luxury will be free.
Such a perspective may be gladdening; but it may equally be frightening. The apostle Saint Peter, in his revealing vision, took hold of this latter branch of the alternative. He says the fatal day will come and…
(in that day) the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up2.
Today we have a better understanding of the deep meaning of this warning, for the danger has stepped out of the vague domain of “prophecies” to take on a burning actuality. And a whole series of grave and urgent problems surges before us in consequence. According to their fortuitous or un-fortuitous solution will depend the lot of Saint Peter’s prophecy.
The first problem is set. The Congress of automation, held lately in Paris, ascertained indeed that the progress acquired in production modifies from top to bottom the problem of manual labor and that of “full employment”. Learned representatives of applied science and of industry reached this conclusion, that with the introduction of automation, we will work no more than two days a week, and besides, only four hours per working day. The weekend will be of five days.
The necessity to gain one’s bread, which up to now occupies man and automatically bridles his ferocious instincts, will be abolished. What will he do then, once liberated from the fatigue of the eight hour working day? – The congress of Paris, while conscious of the danger represented thereby, proposed nothing however but to think of a new organization of leisure time.
In fact it’s a chimera. We’ll soon have five Sundays a week. Already, with the forty hour week, the number of accidents as well as criminality, have a tendency to increase. Holidays entail a frightening number – always on the increase – of road and other accidents, besides the cases of debauchery. Such are the indices we should take into account when we think of occupying the free man with leisurely activities.
By which means can we equilibrate social life when this safety valve – the imperious necessity of gaining one’s livelihood – will have been suppressed? We don’t know. Only one thing is clear, which is that this constraint exerted on man by the nature of things, otherwise said by divine will, cannot be replaced by a human constraint, that is to say a policing one. One should therefore search for the solution to the problem on a superior plane.
Let’s narrow down the question. One of the first consequences of a generalized application of automation3 in production will be the proportional weakening of the political and social power of money. In fact, why do we still seek to gain money today? – Because money represents an equivalent to human labor, and on account of this, allows the acquisition of the fruits of this labor without fatigue – in proportion with the equivalence established between the two by market factors. But then, if we obtain the same fruits of labor by automation, without engaging human labor, effectively thereupon, money having become useless, would lose its purchasing power. Technical progress will guarantee every newborn a comfortable life, even luxurious due to the mere fact of being born in the world.
With this, we come to one of the great turning points in the history of humanity. For, if money loses its purchasing power, it will fatally lose its political and social power.
At present, real power in the world is held by an elite which possesses money (capitalism) or which administers money (communism). But then, with automation, the rivalry capitalism-communism will lose every day more and more of its actuality. And the great controversy, deprived of its object will soon find itself surpassed without having been resolved.
The question is to know, who will constitute the leading elite in the new Era? In other terms, by what new power will the agonizing power of money be replaced? Such is the second great problem which emerges as a direct consequence of automation.
These questions cannot be answered except by way of hypotheses based on analogies with a similar situation already known to history. The last great turning point in Europe’s history, analogous to the one we are dealing with, is the passage from the Middle Ages to modern history. This passage which was carried out during the XIVth – XVIIth centuries, opened, with the XVIIIth, the page of contemporary history. It is instructive for our study to examine rapidly the process of replacement of the old medieval elite by the new elite.
The man of elite of the Middle Ages was the Knight. What is his image? What are his principal characteristics?
Knighthood formed the nobility, the ruling class of that epoch where money had not yet detained the reins of public and private life. Being noble then, signified being disinterested. And for good reason. The nobleman of that time was characterized by his physical, muscular force. A knight had to be tall, strong, capable of wearing armor, and of wielding heavy lances and swords. Failing this, he couldn’t be part of the leading class. Deviations and abuses set apart, the knight whose physical force and power of armaments made master of his entourage, in turn obeyed the orders of the church. He had to be the defender of the weak and the oppressed and the regulator of public life, founded on the work of peasantry and artisanship. From the intellectual point of view, the knight-type of the high Middle Ages was not at all brilliant. Often, the great lords could neither read nor write. Their level did not exceed that of the boxing champions of our day. And the tournaments of those times – which evoke matches – served as tests of ability for folks of elite. They abandoned themselves to the Courts of sovereigns and under the eyes of the ladies. The populace took no interest whatsoever.
With the Renaissance which secularized the minds, the medieval ideal of the knight paled away then became the object of mockery for the folks of the new elite under formation. Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote gave it the coup de grace. The growing force of the intellect took the place of physical, muscular force in the social hierarchy. Sure of himself, of his superiority in relation to the preceding psychical type, the new man opened for himself new sectors in the fields of action open to humans. Exploration of Nature, calculations of all sorts, the value of advantage, of gain, previously despised, finally, the new idea of luxury and comfort – such became the new categories, recognized in the scale of values. And money, the handling of which had been religiously forbidden the knight according to the precepts of Saint Thomas Aquinas, insensibly became little by little, the principal aim of activity. Before defending the common cause –sacred duty of chivalry – the new man set himself at defending his own interest.
The old regime crumbled. Physical force ceded its place to intellectual force. And since the intellectual is by its very nature agnostic, Religion, that supreme force of former times, ceded its place to Science.
The latter’s victory wasn’t of the easiest. In a secular competition, Religion sought to defend its old dominant positions. Only, and this proved fatal, it did so by old means, that is to say by physical force: to the Knight’s sword, weakening with the appearance of fire arms, it associated the fire of the Inquisition. In so doing it drained the very base of its raison d’être. This internal contradiction provoked the revolt of reason, which culminated in the Reform. Reason came on top on all points. And in the new society, Voltaire, instead of being burned to the stake like Giordano Bruno two centuries prior (1600), was raised to the summit of honors. The Universities and Colleges, already created under Church protection, became citadels of lay science and free thinking.
The victory of the intellect was won by the new elite which constituted the new leading class, above all due to its ability to calculate – and to appreciate material values. Logically thereafter, the Encyclopedia pushed the new world towards Revolution: the large bourgeoisie and the intellectuals took over the place of nobility. Such was the consecration of the long historical process of forming the new elite.
Having reached the summit of power, the new man, explorer and calculator, in turn pushed life towards the industrial Revolution, called on to modify once again the face of the world. But then, Science, having produced marvels in the domain of the means, has not altogether indicated adequate possibilities of control over these means. It promises free luxury, but it has not created or even outlined a new organization for a human society liberated from the necessity of “gaining one’s bread at the sweat of one’s brow”.
The man of science, the intellectual, created the machine. But the machine proved stronger than him. He can no longer stop it or slow it down. And yesterday’s leading elite sees itself surpassed today, being impotent in assuming the responsibility of power in the world to come. Accordingly, the formation of a new leading elite imposes itself.
Speaking of “enflamed heavens that will dissolve and of elements that will melt” Saint Peter ends his prophecy saying:
But according to His promise we wait for a new heavens and a new earth in which truth dwells4.
As the first branch of the alternative, directed at the disintegration of matter, has become a reality, we are incited to bear all our attention on the examination of the second, that of the new earth in which truth dwells. This valuable indication will allow us to portray for ourselves the image of the new man who will – or who is already called on to form the new leading elite and to get a hold on power in the approaching era.
Let’s start from the real and known facts. If the principal material force which manages up to our day human society is, as we’ve established, that of money, the principal faculty of the intellect which allowed progress is its ability to combine. Combining is the mother of all scientific and material progress, in every domain. Combining is equally the mother of organization. The intellect, combiner and calculator, which replaced the noble but simplistic spirit of the Knight, engendered progress with all its realized benefits as well as those still to be realized.
Meanwhile, we’ve already said it, the intellect, agnostic by its very nature, finds itself on the moral plane somewhat disoriented, without a compass. Such that the defining limits between advantage and abuse remains for it floating, uncertain. It’s the heart that can trace clearly this limit; but the heart isn’t much in favor with the intellect. It calls its motives: childishness. For it “everything is allowed which is not forbidden”. Such is its moral code. But forbidden by who? – By God? – No, by its equals. Inspired perhaps – albeit instinctively – by the same “realist” spirit of calculation and of gain. It’s a vicious circle.
The result is known. Since the fall of medieval society, the newfound opportunism, offspring of calculation, logically introduced in human life dissimulation, hypocrisy and lying in previously unheard of proportions. So much so, that if we attempted by some marvelous means, to extirpate this “leaven of the Pharisees” from private, social and political life – the whole edifice of our civilization would crumble. But then we’ve seen that in the second branch of his alternative, Saint Peter says positively that in the new humanity “truth dwells”. How might we imagine this new order of things?
Let us continue to reason by analogy. The changing of the elite which led from the High Middle Ages until the epoch of the Encyclopedia, came about as a function of the appearance of the man of a new type: the intellectual, man of science. And just as Philosophy of antique times ceded its dominant place to Religion in the Middle Ages, the latter in turn ceded its own to Science. For, there exists in all but four great fields of moral action accessible to humans: Philosophy, Religion, Science and Art. And we see that the succession of civilizations comes about as a function of the displacement of the center of gravity of the elite’s activity from one of these domains to another.
Placed under the general sign of Philosophy in the antique world, Religion and Science were so to speak “philosophized”, the antique man being par excellence a contemplative spirit. That spirit desired neither to “gain time”, nor so much to gain money. This besides is what explains why the Greeks and Romans, no less intelligent than us, didn’t build railroads or airplanes.
The Middle Ages, placed under the sign of Religion, “religionized” Philosophy and Science. Finally, in the modern epoch, came Philosophy’s and Religion’s turn to be “scientifized”.
Art distinguishes itself from the three above domains in that it contains them all, without deforming them. On the contrary, it’s in the epoch placed under the aegis of Art that the three preceding human activities will be called upon to blossom by taking their natural form, without being shrunken or hypertrophied, while coming in harmony and complementing one another. And ethics will be based on aesthetics.
But this demands that tomorrow’s leading elite be composed of super-men5. Let’s not be afraid of this term. In the eyes of a brave knight from the epoch of Pierre D’Amiens, today’s technocrats producing the means of construction and destruction, of transport and the transmission of thought, radio and cinema, would appear without a doubt as supermen. It’s that in them new intellectual faculties have been developed, which in the Knight were dormant in an embryonic state.
Similarly, in us men of the present epoch’s leading elite, who are called on to disappear, other new faculties sleep embryonically. Their blossoming will form the new man. And the distance separating him from the technocrat, the financier, the diplomat, the general or the professor of our days will be no smaller than that which separates the contemporary intellectual from the knight of the Middle Ages.
If the principal faculty which once developed created the man of the present leading elite, the Intellectual, is his capacity to calculate and combine, the principal new faculty of the man of elite to come, will be his ability to distinguish spontaneously, without evidence, or supporting proof, the real from the false, truth from lie. And in principle, he will be endowed with the “spiritual gifts” of which Saint Paul speaks6. Evidently, the bearers of such faculties, over and above the present high culture, will find themselves automatically at the head of human society. And the masses will accept this new power, since it is superior, as they accepted for the same reason that of the Intellectual, superior to the Knight.
Technical progress cornered the world into an alternative corresponding to that of Saint Peter: tomorrow’s life, losing yesterday’s equilibrium which was already unstable, will be either definitively “diabolized” – and liquidated in the cataclysm foreseen by the apostle – or “divinized” to create “new heavens and a new earth in which truth dwells”.
To “diabolize” life and push the world towards a general catastrophe, all the elements are already in place. And this would require no special moral effort whatsoever. It’s not the same with “divinization”. To create a “new earth”, the ferocious instincts of man must be bridled at the same moment when the masses will be liberated from labor and fatigue. For tomorrow, when with automation the power of money and in consequence, that of yesterday’s elite, will be abolished, then logically, human society should fall in chaos. That is to say in the general anarchy of free men, prelude to catastrophe.
Some people reproach7 “Jesus of Nazareth” for not having saved humanity. But it was never a question of that – Let’s open the Gospel. In more than one instance, Jesus makes the distinction between his disciples and the “world”, the “exterior”8. This he emphasizes by praying God not for all, but for “those who were given him”9. And Saint Paul specifies by saying we are saved in hope10. One can easily convene that between hope and realization there is yet a track to be covered. This distance must be covered, by our-selves, by our own efforts, even by super-efforts. Nothing is given gratis. Everything must be paid.
The new man, he also, will be formed by efforts equivalent to the wanted and expected results. Let us repeat: everything must be paid.
For his part, the man of the street of the new world, in which the greater part of today’s elite will recognize itself, will not cease to lie except when this becomes impossible for him. That is to say when, he will no longer be able to conceal his thoughts. In other words, when, human thought will be legible by every cultivated man.
This new culture will comprise the whole millenary experience of humanity as well as the new faculties which up to now manifest but sporadically and partially, and remain without practical application in the organization of human society. But then, the man of elite of tomorrow will be “twice born” according to the celebrated words of Jesus addressed to Nicodemus11.
The esoteric Tradition which has been conserved in oriental Orthodoxy teaches that every civilization is but the projection on the exterior world of the ‘I’ consciousness of the man of elite. Already the ‘I’ of the Intellectual is not similar to that of the Knight. Also, in the civilization to come, placed under the aegis of sacred Art the man of elite will be the bearer of an ‘I’ Consciousness altogether different from the three preceding epochs. He will have the consciousness of the Real I. No longer that of the ‘I’ generally admitted by the cultivated men of our epoch: unstable, composite, even multiple; but of a permanent, monolithic ‘I’. And the edifice of the future civilization will then be built by him no longer on “sand”, but on the “rock” of his self-consciousness –divine spark12.
Possessing these new faculties, the new man will have the power to organize the life of the new society, freed from extenuating labor, and he will establish, thanks to his clairvoyance, the new order where “truth dwells”.
Saint Paul says:
Yet among the perfect we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age has known this…13
The animal man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to know them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man (on the contrary) judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one14.
The esoteric Tradition like a subterranean river, bears this wisdom across the ages whereas on the surface human anarchy rages. It is time that this antique wisdom come out of the cells and be taught in the universities. So that the new elite may be formed without retard – and so that the second branch of Saint Peter’s alternative be realized to the great benefit of all organic life on planet Earth.
The whole problem is there.
1 Discourse delivered by the author on October 26th, first lesson of the winter semester 1956/57 of his course: About the Esoteric Tradition in Oriental Orthodoxy, given at the University of Geneva.
2 II Peter 3, 10. It is us who highlight BM (tr. The R.S.V. version is used in this and further biblical quotations. In certain instances, where we found it necessary, we have made substitutions following the French text and clarified this to the reader. This is justified as the author bases all biblical quotations on the original Slavonic and Greek).
3 Tr. In this and two other instances the author uses the French word automatique which should normally be translated as ‘automatic’. We have used the word ‘automation’ instead, although the French for automation is either the same word or automatization, because the English sentence, unlike the French would become incoherent otherwise.
4 II Peter 3, 13. It is us who highlight (tr. We replaced the word righteousness by truth keeping with the author’s intent as seen from the following note) It is to be noted that in certain translations, notably that of Louis Segond, the word truth (verite) is replaced by that of righteousness (justice). Yet there is a nuance between these two terms.
5 Tr. Note: The author uses the word sur-homme which we have preferred to render as super-men rather than over-men.
6 I Corinthians 14, 1 and further.
7 See for example the article of Pierre Beausire in PRESENCE no. 1. 1955-56.
8 Marc 4, 11; Luke 8, 10. Tr. We substituted the word “outside” with “exterior”.
9 John 17, 9.
10 Romans 8, 24.
11 John 3, 3.
12 Mathew 7, 24-29; Luke 6, 47-48.
13 I Corinthians 2, 6-8. Tr. We substituted “the mature” with “the perfect” and “understood this” with “known this”.
14 Ibid. 14-15. We substituted the word “natural” or “unspiritual” with “animal”, “understand” with “know” and we added (on the contrary).