What are the philosophies of renunciation

Victory of renunciation

When Dietmar Gottschall and Silke Siegel sent their famous "Rundbrief" to the intellectual elite of the Federal Republic in 1962, in which they unironically asked about the meaning of life, the writer Rudolf Walter Leonhardt advised them to use the works of the great philosophers instead of an answer of their own to read, and added:

"Start with Schopenhauer: He is the most understandable - also the most human, and that precisely because of his logical and epistemological inadequacies, which every professional philosopher will show you with great acuteness."

The fact that Arthur Schopenhauer, who died 150 years ago in Frankfurt am Main, found it difficult to withstand severe criticism of his philosophical methodology, is one of the disappointments that each of his admirers suffers when he steps out of his or her spell. But it is also true that no German-speaking philosopher has achieved such a broad and general impact as Schopenhauer.

For academic philosophy things are of course different: compared to the great systems thinkers of the modern age such as Leibniz, Kant, Hegel and Heidegger, Schopenhauer can at best survive as an essayist; from the all-crushing existentialists like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Sartre, the rest of the systematic and holistic distinguishes him, including the conciliatory basic tenor that characterizes his work despite all pessimism. But when it comes to the legibility of his style and the comprehensibility of his statements, his range and authorial charm are unsurpassed.

Schopenhauer is read not only for knowledge, but also for consolation. And comforting - this is the paradox of this so-called pessimist - is the tenor of his entire work: From his youthful, stormy main work "The world as will and imagination" to the age-wise "aphorisms of wisdom" - the word Arthur Huebscher, who is in the grave of his Idol Schopenhauer wanted to be buried, applies to this day:

"Schopenhauer teaches us to know and see through the world. He sets up the image of man that we can oppose to this world, and has impressed on him all the traits of what is attainable. He calls for the development of higher forms of existence that are lived according to the highest models. You can live with your philosophy - and die with it. "

Precisely because his philosophy, in all its radicalism, never appears inhuman, never desperate, people in the 19th century spoke of a "pleasurable Schopenhauer pessimism" and alluded to the Countess Schleinitz's salon, which was an oasis in the memoirs of the late imperial era of the sense of art and humanity in Wilhelminian style Berlin. And not only Ms. von Schleinitz led, as her friend Anna von Helmholtz put it, a life "with Goethe and Schopenhauer as constant companions, with red damask as a background".

For the misanthropist Schopenhauer owed his fame to the ladies and gentlemen of the great society in their splendid salons even more than the petty bourgeoisie in their shabby attic rooms. Schopenhauer became the unfashionable fashion philosopher of German society, and this across times and empires: while his earlier fame dated from the leaden late Biedermeier period of the second restoration, after the failure of the revolution of 1848, he grew into an icon of the educated in the Bismarck Empire after 1871 The bourgeoisie, both sophisticated and small, was able to expand its position after the shock of 1918 amid general political and social uncertainty.

The character of Schopenhauer, who was born on February 22, 1788 in Danzig, then Prussia, was undoubtedly influenced by the negative experiences at home. The father, although a wealthy businessman, is melancholy and dies in 1805, probably by suicide. The son is just 16. The mother Johanna moves to Weimar with her sister Adele, where she is soon supposed to play an important role as a salonière in the vicinity of Goethe; she shares mutual aversion with her son, which finally leads to a definitive break in 1814. Arthur developed into a loner at an early age, combining ingenious self-confidence and a grim abandonment of the world. Typically the first great love: Karoline Jagemann, of all people, later wife von Heygendorff, Weimar theater star and lover of Grand Duke Karl August, it has to be - the crush of a romantic 19-year-old is a hopeless undertaking from the start.

Arthur only gains impartial, free access to the outside world through the intellectual, and the extensive journeys through Europe on which the parents send the young people also contribute to this. He acquired solid language skills at an early age, and throughout his life he insisted on the value of classical languages ​​for a thorough education. After a few years of wandering, he finally settled in Frankfurt am Main in the 1820s, where he led the life of a financially secure private scholar until his death. When he died in 1860 at the age of 72, he was a respected, revered and even famous philosopher beyond the borders of Germany.

The young Schopenhauer would hardly have dreamed of this fame. In 1819 he received a total of ten free copies from his publisher Friedrich A. Brockhaus as a fee for printing his main work "The World as Will and Imagination" - a symbolic gesture, nothing more. She will not have materially hit the merchant's son, whom his father's inheritance saved from economic collapse throughout his life, materially; but psychologically, as the first publication of his magnum opus was anything but a success. For decades Schopenhauer was to stand in the shadow of the greatest thinker in Europe at the time: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - admittedly a competition that Schopenhauer, who was almost a generation younger, was specifically looking for and almost fanatically conjured up.

"Scharlatan", "Galimathias", "Mob philosophy", "Afterphilosophie" - these are just a selection of the verbal jurias with which Schopenhauer throws around as often as he comes across Hegel and his philosophical system. His companions on the way and thinker, Fichte and Schelling, hardly got off better; at best, he allows them to be regarded as "talented men", not as independent thinkers. His aggression against the world-trusting moral idealism of these three is motivated by his merciless, consuming awareness of the suffering in the world - and for the essential part that the human will has in this suffering. In a fundamental study, Georg Simmel writes:

"Schopenhauer's philosophy is the absolute, philosophical expression for the inner state of modern man. It is the center of his teaching that the real, metaphysical essence of the world and ourselves have its very comprehensive and solely decisive expression in our will. The will is the substance of our subjective life, how and because the absolute of being in general is a restless urge, a constant going beyond oneself, but which, precisely because it is the exhaustive ground of all things, is condemned to eternal dissatisfaction. "

So the will is the one big theme in Schopenhauer's philosophy. The other is imagination, that is, the human faculty of knowledge. True to his role model Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer believes that the world is not real, but only as a projection of the human intellect: "The world is my imagination" - with this famous sentence his main work begins. But not all ideas are the same: it depends, according to Schopenhauer, whether it is subject to the will or not. If it is not, the principle applies: "As long as we behave purely by looking, everything is clear, firm and certain." Schopenhauer's whole philosophy could be understood as an attempt to regain this original clarity and certainty of the willless and disinterested view. The way to do this is called: negation of the will to live.

Here at the latest it becomes clear how inappropriate the label "nihilism" is, which Schopenhauer was given during his lifetime. Because he too asks how a person can become happy; his answer is: not by spending the will, but by concentrating on what is absolutely necessary. His philosophy, which boils down to renunciation and self-sufficiency, takes up elements of the Stoa, Buddhism, and Christianity. Despite all the talk of the misanthropist Schopenhauer, it is not violent, but aims at self-restraint. And that is why reason never gives up control over passions with her. In the words of Arthur Huebscher:

"However: Schopenhauer is not a philosopher of feeling like, in his time, Herder or Jacobi, not an existentialist like the descendants of Kierkegaard. He lives from the heart, he reveals the most primal and deepest things in people, but he takes care of the critical, ordering Ability to discard. He directs his gaze to general, timeless truths and values. The essence, the essentia, stands before existence. "

What this means historically should become clear a century later: About being in the world deeply insecure, worldless and lacking in position, intellectuals like Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger or Ernst Jünger first surrendered their intellect to their confused feelings then submit to this confused, alienated intellect. They fantasized convulsively about the "high treason of the spirit against the spirit", were unable and unwilling to discover in the ability to think itself the guarantee that their life was not meaningless; that it has an ontological, being-like horizon in which they themselves are embedded as human beings: and so they became willing apologists, even spiritual accomplices, of Hitler and his destructive movement. But these negativists could never appeal to Schopenhauer, the so-called nihilists; because for him, in Hannah Arendt's words, the insight was valid

"that man as 'master of his thoughts' is not only more than everything he thinks [...]; but also that man is determined from the outset as a being who is more than his self and wants more than oneself."

This great insight makes Schopenhauer so attractive; and it brings him closer to Hegel, who, although from the opposite side, had the same point in mind as Schopenhauer: the contented, peaceful being-to-himself of man. And it was this insight that fundamentally separates him from the thinker with whom he is often mentioned in the same breath and who made him popular in Germany: Friedrich Nietzsche.

Schopenhauer's and Nietzsche's résumés have a lot in common: the professional failure, the falling short of more powerful contemporaries - Hegel here, Richard Wagner there -, the long lack of public recognition. Nevertheless, there is an essential difference, which is laid out in their respective philosophies as well as it is reflected in their history of impact: Nietzsche was a deeply unfulfilled person who interpreted his inability to be a "blonde beast" as a substantial character deficit and insane has been. But Schopenhauer, despite all the insufferability, radiates holism, spherical harmony, yes: reconciliation with every line. The reference to his supposed "voluntarism" is misleading: Schopenhauer's philosophy of will is purely analytical, metaphysical, descriptive; if he defines the will, in unspoken recourse to the apostles Paul and Augustine, as the guiding principle of existence, then he does not at the same time derive a maxim for action from it.

In contrast, with Nietzsche, who soon broke away from Schopenhauer disappointed after the enthusiasm of the early years, the will is the maxim for action, and the more radical the less Nietzsche and his contemporaries are still sure of their will and their own viability. At first, of course, Nietzsche was quite serious about his enthusiasm for Schopenhauer; In the "Third Untimely Contemplation of 1874: Schopenhauer as an educator", the Basel professor of classical philology praises Schopenhauer's work as a great example of intellectual truthfulness, in contrast to the flattening, world and history uncritically absolutizing positivism of his fellow world who is enthusiastic about progress.

But with such modesty, which was about intellectual honesty, not chiliastic self-realization, it was soon over - at the latest after Nietzsche's break with Richard Wagner and his circle. Nietzsche was right in his reproach that the eclectic Wagner only used Schopenhauer's pessimism as a cloak for a blatant, unrestrained egoism, which, far from all renunciation, could never have enough of fame, money and sex; But just as wrong as this hypocrisy was Nietzsche's reaction, who increasingly felt himself to be a failure: namely, from the abuse of an ideal - Schopenhauer's denial of the will - to infer the falsity of the ideal itself. This misdirection cost him his health, mentally and physically, and also a good part of his historical reputation.

Between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, as Georg Simmel rightly pointed out, was Charles Darwin. The unfortunate tendency introduced by him to exaggerate the trivialities of natural existence to existential maxims, has not increased to the extreme like Nietzsche with his ecstatic appeal to his contemporaries to become a world-changing superman. But Schopenhauer's ethics of will wants the exact opposite of this. Bernhard Taureck:

"In Schopenhauer, the dissolution of philosophy means proof of the illusion of previous philosophy and the transition to becoming free from the will. Both happen as follows: In the self, in the self-confidence of every human being, the world becomes conscious as something that does not show itself in space and time : The fact that the world is blind will. There are ways to get free from this will [...]. For Schopenhauer, these are above all the experiences of Buddhists with the metaphor 'nirvana', which means 'blow away'. "

"Who dies in despair"as Adorno once wrote, "Whose whole life was in vain" - One can rightly apply this to Nietzsche, the disappointed, broken and finally mentally deranged; but hardly on Schopenhauer. One is also mistaken if one only wants to perceive the reconciliation of one's thinking in one's later writings; no: this tendency is already inherent in the angry youthful beginnings of his work. Yes, it is true, the author of the "World as Will and Idea" saw himself, as exaggerated as he was self-confident, as the anti-Hegel.

But, to speak with Hegel himself, Schopenhauer's negation of Hegel was a concrete, not an abstract one; it was rebellious, but not revolutionary, and even in rebellion Schopenhauer's denial of being was lifted and protected in the idolatry of his antipode, Hegel. For whether denial or deification: For both Hegel and Schopenhauer, being as the horizon of human thought and thus of human existence is fundamentally fixed and irrefutable.

Schopenhauer is the Hegel for domestic use, is, as it were, the practical reason of the world spirit; the "world as will and concept" with its wonderful essayistic cutting seems to be written for those for whom the "phenomenology of the mind" with its esoteric pomposity is too complicated. Under the veil of pessimism and grumpiness it becomes clear: Schopenhauer's nihilism is in truth a pseudo-nihilism that has put on the mask of Hegel's philosophy of being; In relation to the real thing, it lacks the negativistic content, the attitude of absolute rebellion. He doesn't want to make the world better, he just accepts it as it is; he recommends neither suicide nor murder, but withdrawal and renunciation. He opposes the booming but impotent triumph of will with the quiet, composed victory of renunciation.

This is the reason why Nietzsche, but never Schopenhauer, was hitched to Hitler's cart and his worldly destructiveism. The basically cozy old man, who was not really young even as a boy, had found metaphysics in the "world as will" which could offer his soul, troubled by father and mother complexes, the longed for and necessary support; his intellect, the difference to later existentialism, remained clear throughout his life, as evidenced by the never-clouded constancy and bravura of his style. Rüdiger Safranski:

"Schopenhauer spoke of the body, of the will, of life without messianism. Our body will not redeem us, nor will our will. He has shown drastically the impotence of reason in relation to the will. But he was 'the most rational philosopher of the irrational' [ ...]. He knew: You have to stand by the weaker, the reason. He had only contempt for the folly, the will to free this giant to himself. "

This sovereign, grandseignural contempt, which is the opposite of blind hatred and impotent despair, has saved Schopenhauer's nimbus over times which, with their morbid, worldly and youthful exuberance, believed themselves to be superior to any age wisdom.Paradoxically, Schopenhauer was less an outsider among his early contemporaries, the idealists and disciples of Kant, than among those who came after him and still liked to drape their fatalism and negativism with the facade of his so-called "pessimism" during the two world wars. Arthur Huebscher:

"Even in the current 'Philosophy of Doom' Schopenhauer stood strangely apart. [...] The prophets' task seemed fulfilled. They had kept the traditions alive for centuries, and their knowledge of the future had always come from knowledge of the timeless . But the fear of time, an urgent, unique, unrepeatable fear that was nothing more than a caring presence [...] without any support in the past - could it have taken comfort and warning from them? "

Hardly likely. But not because Schopenhauer did not also have the qualities of a philosophical comforter; He certainly has that, and to a special degree; but because the existentialist generation simply no longer wanted to be comforted. The epoch-making and epoch-destroying impetus of political existentialism was largely defiance, protracted infantility, belated adolescence, which could not come to terms with the fact that its generation, after two revolutions, in the midst of freedom and prosperity, was faced with the eternal, hellishly complicated task of reflection is no longer redeemed by an easy, brisk battle death or love death. The great Karl Löwith expressed the intellectual historical contrast between the generation of Hegel and Schopenhauer and that of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in a beautiful parable:

"The old do not, like the youngsters, live in an unsatisfied tension to a world that is inadequate for them and in 'aversion to reality'; they also do not exist in the male 'connection' to the real world, but they are like old people, without any particular one Interested in this or that, the general and the past, to which they owe their knowledge of the general. On the other hand, the youth is an existence that is attached to the individual, addicted to the future, wants to change the world, devises programs and makes demands in disagreement with the existing the delusion of having to set up a world that has fallen out of joint ... [...] The step towards recognition of what is is only taken by young people as a painful transition into Philistine life, but they are mistaken if they only see this relationship as one who understands external need and not as a rational necessity in which those of all special interests Present free wisdom of age lives. "

But the "old people" - whether you regret this or not - are ultimately right. And is it a coincidence that the exponents of the two great revolutionary philosophical currents of the 20th century, Heidegger and Max Horkheimer, find their way back to Schopenhauer at the end of their lives? Of course, only Horkheimer openly admitted this. But also the texts of the late Heidegger, his speech about "being" - with Ypsilon -, to which one has to abandon oneself, breathe the spirit of Schopenhauerian reflection, in which the crush of will, physical and mental desire, comes to rest. Schopenhauer's thinking did indeed show, as Adorno pointedly demanded against Heidegger, "in solidarity with metaphysics at the moment of its overthrow".

There is something else that distinguishes Schopenhauer from his successors: his unsuitability as a guru. Of course, in his work he often shows himself conceited, mostly offended and always convinced of himself. But if he ever suffered from fame addiction, his disregard from those around him cured it in his early years. He had nothing left for Richard Wagner's idolatries, who enthusiastically sought contact with him in the 1850s. Rüdiger Safranski:

"Schopenhauer was not a Buddha, and luckily he did not force himself to want to become one. He cleverly avoided the tragedy that consists in trying to live after one's own inspirations, one's own insights. Schopenhauer has not confused with oneself, because it does not turn out well if one tries to take oneself from the inspired word, tries to 'realize', 'implement', 'appropriate'. One should let the self happen, let it happen and not Self-appropriation is the secret of creativity. "

From here, however, it is not far to the "serenity" of the late Heidegger or to the Taoist "letting go" that Jaspers conjures up in his metaphysicians against the historical horizon of hysterical-destructive activism. But how should, or better: what can he look like, this "serene" person who allows being and relies on it? Schopenhauer himself gives a description:

"Such a character will therefore look at people purely objectively, but not according to the relationships that they might have with his will: he will, for example, notice their mistakes, even their hatred and their injustice towards themselves, without resulting in hatred on their part to be excited; he will look at their happiness without feeling envious; he will recognize their good qualities without, however, wanting closer association with them; he will perceive the beauty of women without coveting her. His personal happiness or unhappiness will be do not affect him strongly. "

Ancient world wisdom and Christian ethics of renunciation, Buddhist self-dissolution and Taoist inaction, scholastic logic of being and idealistic reconciliation with the world found their late synthesis. Everyone can withdraw into Schopenhauer's intellectual edifice: it offers as much enlightenment to the youthful seeker of meaning as it does to the aging skeptic of meaning enjoyment of the mind game; It promises self-assurance as well as certainty of being - not a bad inheritance in a time that no longer just questions everything, as it did in 1848, but which stopped asking questions in 1945 at the latest. And Schopenhauer's philosophy is the last great philosophy that gives clear answers, the clarity of which is not just a cover name for despair or brutality. "Denial of the will to live" is not the same as "denial of life" - this subtle difference makes the whole Schopenhauer and gives him his dignity. Rüdiger Safranski:

"Schopenhauer's philosophy is ambiguous. It engages in the pragmatics of life and individual self-assertion and at the same time explains that it is' actually 'nothing with the individual, that it is' actually' nothing with life in general, that 'actually "Everything is one. It was this ambiguity that [...] has affected the artists of the second half of the 19th century to this day. It appeals to an aesthetic sense, an aesthetic attitude towards life. It gives the seriousness of life the foundation." Everyone has to 'participate in the great marionette play of life [...], but philosophy allows him a look at the whole of the theater. For a moment one ceases to be an actor and becomes a spectator [..] .]: uninvolved seeing, without being involved in the blinding seriousness. "