Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Champion of Logos

[This is a portion of an essay published by CJ on Rosenstock-Huessy in the June, 2016, issue of Culture Wars magazine, South Bend, Indiana. It has been lightly edited.]


“War and marriage are the two cornerstones of serious life with which we cannot experiment.”

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy


Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy could not have foreseen the awful and ironic resonance his words would have for us today. Born July 6, 1888, in Berlin, Eugen Rosenstock grew up in an assimilated German Jewish family. (Upon his marriage to Margrit Huessy, in the Swiss custom he added her name to his.) At about age 17 he became a Christian. Of scholarly bent and with an aptitude for languages,[1] Rosenstock received his doctorate in law, and later in philosophy, and became a professor of medieval constitutional law. In the First World War he was an office in the German army. The war experience shook him to his roots and he believed that “never again can we do things the same way” again. The appearance of a new imperative in individual or social life became an important theme of his writings.  “The future is reached by imperatives,” he wrote. And in his book The Christian Future (1946), in response to William James’ 1910 call for the “moral equivalent of war,” he wrote that “When a new imperative is given and goes unheeded, the results are much worse than they were in the days before the new way into the future was proclaimed.” For James’ call went unheeded and was followed by two devastating world wars. [2]


In 1933 Rosenstock emigrated to the U.S. He had a teaching post at Harvard. It was not a successful match because Rosenstock had a way of taking God’s presence in history seriously, and Harvard didn’t know what to do with that. They stowed him away in the theology department for a while. Not long, because he found a better position at Dartmouth, where  he would sometimes ride to his classes on horseback and where he taught until his retirement in 1957. He gained a devoted following amongst his former students, some of whom have recorded and transcribed his lectures, published his works in English, or translated some from the German, and established societies and conferences for the dissemination of his ideas.


This brief biographical sketch barely suffices to introduce one of the more interesting thinkers of our time. I  had stumbled upon The Christian Future  some time ago  and used a quote from it for my book, Stewards of History.[3] There, apparently, the matter rested for some years. I don’t recall what it was that sparked my interest to find out more about this author. But I did some internet research, eventually became a member of the Rosenstock-Huessy Society and started this blog in response to his work.  


What is it about Rosenstock’s thought that inspired my interest and the devotion of so many of his former students and colleagues? The short answer is that Rosenstock’s “speech-thinking”   affirmed and renewed the Logos – the Word from the beginning. And further, he found a new home for the Logos, so to speak. It is grammar, which can become the method for a new understanding of social relations. “The fundamental classifications of grammar and the fundamental classifications of social relations coincide,” he wrote.[4]  But there were other insights, extraordinary in their simple and compelling nature. Most striking among these was his distinction between formal and informal speech – a distinction I have not read in any other commentator on language. But it seems evident that while communication exists among bees and dolphins, and indeed the language of the quantum says that intercommunication is a property of universal life and matter. But only human beings bestow proper names and possess formal speech. The informal and the casual depend upon the formal and the specified. Thus, “new speech is not created by thinkers or poets but by great and massive political calamities and upheavals.” “What a great day!” Rosenstock says, depends upon “The heavens declare the glory of God.”   And: “…we shall have a science of speech or of language as soon as we have penetrated to the hell of non-speech.”[5]


Rosenstock had high words of praise for the Catholic liturgy. While not himself Catholic, he was sometimes considered Catholic in attitude, and collaborated with Joseph Wittig, a priest and author, in the writing of his three-volume Der Alter der Kirche (The Age of the Church – not yet translated.) [6]   In writing of the liturgy, Rosenstock commented:  “It always has aroused my attention that the preface of the Christian Mass, which is one of the most perfect documents of human speech,  should begin with adjectives and, what is more, with a considerable list of adjectives. It runs: Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte... This prayer … is historical and adjectival language at its apex. … in the perfect form of one special style.” [7]


Christianity, and specifically Catholic Christianity, has historically been the vehicle of the Logos.[8]  In its classical meaning Logos means ‘word, speech, reason, proportion, intelligence, measure, means,’ etc. In the Gospel of John, Christ is the Logos: the Word became flesh. A contemporary definition of the Logos was offered by the reviewer of E. Michael Jones’s book, The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit, and published in a letter to Culture Wars: the Logos “…[is] the rational universal order, personified in Jesus Christ, incorporating the earthly political and social order that He embodied in his human nature…” [9]. I would like to offer a slightly different characterization: Logos is how we become cognizant of the realm of moral intelligence.   This moral intelligence may be seen in a threefold dimension, including the physical, [10] comprising the intelligence or laws of nature, the best practices of society which foster civilization and productivity, and the means of intercommunion or communication between the two.  In a manner of speaking this threefold description is a restatement of the Trinity: the realm of the Father being the Law, the realm of the Son being Society, and the realm of communication being the province of the Holy Spirit. Man participates in the Logos by means of language, specifically grammatical language. Semantics, meaning, symbolism, biology, genetics: all these play a role in language.  But it is actually by means of grammar that we become oriented in  space and time, society and world. [11]


How, then, does Rosenstock elaborate the Logos of grammar? He diagrams the persons of grammar (you, I, he, she, it, etc.) in what he calls the “Cross of Reality,” first adding to the spatial continuum of the Cartesian Subject-Object (inner space of self-consciousness and external objectified space)  with a temporal axis embracing Future and Past. The temporal axis has, as its future pole, the Imperative voice  (addressed to You: “You must do this!” “Sing to the goddess, O Muse, of the wrath of Achilles!”) which is the grammatical person that  demands action and creates future. At the other end of the temporal pole is the ‘We’—the narrative mode, historical remembrance, and ritual -- the community remembering, consecrating and commemorating. The spatial and temporal dimensions form the intersecting poles of the Cross.


It is thus that we are conjugated through our human experience: first as “You,” then, thanks to being spoken to, enjoying the privileges of individual self-consciousness (“I”) then as part of a larger community (“We”) and finally, as possessors of “It” – facts, experiences, discoveries, statistics. “Its” are the indicatives; they have been “indicated,” decided, and accounted for. In this manner human life represents and re-enacts this conjugal relation of grammar. Perhaps it is this idea that underlies the significance of marriage, and war, for the serious life. The fact that  today virtually everything in America has become unserious, if not unhinged, underscores the promiscuous nature of our wars and the dissolving character of our marriages.


                         Rosenstock’s Cross of Reality

Note: See also: where Mr. Gardner’s article, “Speech is our Matrix,” is reproduced and  describes the Cross of Reality in detail.



Grammatical health, Rosenstock believed, comes from being able to circulate fully among the four grammatical  poles and to do justice to each of them. In this respect America is seriously unbalanced. We certainly have no deficit of the “I”—the “selfie” pole. Nor any deficit  with “it.” Indicative, that is, scientific and factual statements,  are for the most part the only kinds of statements considered true. Where we have deficits is in the cross pole, Future and Past, Imperative and Remembrance. For example, in 2013 Patrick Smith published Time No Longer: Americans after the American Century,  which argued that we can no longer afford to indulge the idea of American exceptionalism.  It has been the ideology of incessant and ruinous wars and has fostered a spirit of national complacency regarding our politics, schools and quality of life. Has anyone noticed? Have there been any effects from this book?  Aside from a few reviews here and there, the book disappeared without a sound. But the pattern repeats itself again and again. For a nation that prides itself on progress and innovation, the United States is remarkably resistant to dynamic change. This provides an illustration for Chesterton’s quip, that to have anything sudden, you must have something eternal. It is the deficiency in history, in historical memory, that leads to a kind of hermetic stagnation – an inability to hear, to act, and to change appropriately.  Rosenstock often alluded to a kind of “presentism” in the United States:  “The power to connect more than one generation is not given in nature.  In 1702 Cotton Mather complained that America was in danger of res unius aetatis, a matter of one age, and by 1922 Chesterton thought so again. The U.S. has always had trouble living in many generations. ..” [12]


“Presentism”  may indicate a stagnation of history, a breakdown of the full circulation of the Cross of Reality. To have history, three generations are necessary. And the Christian story – death precedes birth – is the paradigm of dynamic change.  Is not an accident that the word “paradigm” is a term of grammar specifically, though it is often used as a synonym for “structure.” We must let the idea of American exceptionalism die. Then, in a mood of repentance, we can move forward. But I don’t see the possibility of that happening any time soon.


It can be beneficial to look back on the course of one’s life, noting the imperatives in particular. How often it is that it is through the sense of urgent having-to-do something, we have learned to know ourselves.  From such moments that we have spun our destiny, if we were able to wait and to suffer with the threads we hold. That waiting and suffering is important, for  Rosenstock noted that the great temptation of our time is impatience: “We seem unwilling to pay the price of living with our fellows in creative and profound relationships…To be non-committal means to keep all relations without important consequences, to rob them of their reproductive, fruit-bearing quality.” [13] What is unique in Rosenstock’s thinking is the emphasis upon fruitfulness. This concern distinguishes his approach from Western rationalism’s search for truth. It also divides him from the academics who, once they forsook truth, did not find the way to fruitfulness but instead to power, celebrity, and influence, hatching numerous academic fads along the way. .


We can only out-think and out-argue this system by finding the words that will awaken the “You” in the human heart. We must awaken conscience through living streams of words. For man alienated from commanding language becomes a beast—or worse. He becomes a heartless predator. But productivity and fruitfulness stand at the gates of  the language  of good will, the speech that has responsibility for truth and for the future. If we cannot awaken language at this level we will have no future. For “the flow of vital speech is the sign of living Christians…A Spirit of Pentecost has become our immediate political necessity.” [14]  We are buried under words today, counterfeit speech—slogans, advertising, political harangues paid for by professional agitators. Have we lost the ability to participate in genuine speech? Rosenstock’s writings provide an important source for social awakening. To be able to respond to genuine speech, to generate it and participate in it: this is our human necessity, and if we lose this, we lose our humanity.


[1] He was apparently proficient in Gothic, Latin, Greek, Lithuanian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbian, Celtic, Armenian, Persian, Sanskrit, Icelandic, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and all other Indo-European languages. All Semitic languages, Hebrew, Syrian, Arabic, Egyptian. Fifteen Finno-Ugaric languages. Twenty African languages. 
[2] James made the call in the context of endorsing Voluntary Poverty. He made a startling proposal: ‘What we now need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war... May not voluntarily accepted poverty be 'the strenuous life’ without the need of crushing weaker peoples?” This imperative seems remarkably prescient in the light of subsequent events.
[3] “Jesus… proved that every end could and should be turned into a new beginning, that even absolute failure and death could be made fertile. Herewith the last frontier of the soul was conquered…Death became the carrier of life between souls.”  Harper Torchbooks, p. 66. The quote referenced my ancestor’s loss of his beloved wife, and how his active participation in the anti-slavery movement dates from this period.
[4] “How Language Establishes Relations” an essay in Speech and Reality (Argo Books, Vermont,  1970).
[5] The Origin of Speech, p. 9.
[6] Father Wittig’s stories  were considered  heretical in part and he was excommunicated in 1926. Later study of his case failed to find any objectionable material, and Pope John XXIII  once declared that, had he been Pope at the time, there would have been no “Wittig case.” In 1946 Wittig was restored to full communion with the Church. The third volume of The Age of the Church deals with the Wittig case.
[7] From “How Language Establishes Relations,” in Speech and Reality, Argo Books, Vermont, 1970.
[8] “…the Church, which in spite of everything, is still the only viable vehicle which Logos has left in this world.” From a letter to a reader from E. Michael Jones, Culture Wars, February 2016.
[9] Quoted by John Beaumont in “The Church and the Jews,” Culture Wars, March 2015.
[10] I see “moral intelligence” as including the physical dimension as its means of commission or action. But the physical dimension, in modern philosophy at least, is more often viewed reductively and lacking in any moral dimension. In classical languages, the moral and the physical are not as widely divergent as in modern speech: for example, “pneuma” meant ‘wind’ as well as ‘spirit.’
[11] There is little connection between Noam Chomsky’s “deep grammar” and Rosenstock’s “grammatical method.” While not claiming any extensive familiarity with Chomsky, even a cursory reading of the Wikipedia entry on him reveals a highly academic approach to linguistics, e.g. “The basis to Chomsky's linguistic theory is rooted in biolinguistics, holding that the principles underlying the structure of language are biologically determined in the human mind and hence genetically transmitted.”  Rosenstock’s work deals not with language as academic theory but as “question marks of political history.”  His thinking is rooted in social history and in the real life of peoples, tribes, and nations. 
[12] The Origin of Speech, 78
[13] The Christian Future, p. 19.
[14] The Christian Future, p. 4-6.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Generational Covenant

If there is one outstanding theme in the work of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, it is that of the covenant of the generations—that our lives as human beings, as persons, take place in a sequence of the generations. This theme is succinctly stated in a short paper of 1942,  “The Future Way of Life,” found in Volume I of the Rosenstock-Huessy Papers (Argo Books, Norwich, Vermont, publisher). In reading this essay, I was struck by one sentence, in which he says that if one generation may carry out its temporal spirit unhampered, “war becomes the only principle of life.” In the text, he applies this observation to the Nazis. But for me, the statement brought up the question of American militarism.

The above-referenced article states that America has been at peace for only 21 years since its founding! But why does ceaseless and unending war characterize the American imperium? I believe that Rosenstock-Huessy has provided us with a way to address the problem.

Let us, therefore, trace out his argument and see what understanding we may glean from it. Rosenstock references the last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi, whose last verse—“Each time when the hearts of the fathers and the hearts of the children are not turned to each other, the land is cursed” (Malachi 4:6) points to the action of the spirit, which ascends through interaction of two generations. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Thus the Trinity is not a mere “belief,” a sort of “hereditary property” or gift you receive when you become a Christian. It is actually the dynamos, the action of life, that which makes possible “the flow of life into the future.”

The pagan mentality, by contrast, is to worship its own genius, to think that  mind is generated within self from birth.  Rosenstock takes pains to disabuse us of this individualist folly. One generation’s background, he notes, is the previous generation’s foreground.  In a similar vein, the Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, whose thought is akin to that of Rosenstock's in many respects, remarked that "the re-appropriation of the circumstances is the entire destiny of man." That is to say, human life is a process of taking what the previous generation has given and transforming it, making it our own. This is, to be sure, "education." But it is also more than that, and Rosenstock in the 1942 essay took pains to clarify his meaning on this subject. For "education" has come to mean dispassion. To demand of the young that they have the quality of detachment is to "sterilize" them-- and of course, the scientists are "detached," and only "scientific statements are regarded as true statements, in this modern dispensation. Rosenstock quotes Alfred North Whitehead to the effect that youth is defined no so much by age as by creative impulse, and that to age belong logic and deliberation. But when everyone  is detached, when everyone keeps cool,  the world decays.

 The constitution of vital truth depends upon the collaboration of the thinkers and the doers, the meeting of acts and thought. “The living speech of the community results from the polarization of acts and thoughts, like the spark crossing the dark gap between the positive and negative poles of electricity.” It is this dynamic back and forth, this overlapping of kinds of speech and of generations, that defines the action of the spirit. “The coexistence or more than one generation at the same time, the deliverance from blind cycles and sequences, was called the achievement of the Holy Spirit.”

This is an encapsulation of Rosenstock’s generational covenant. Elsewhere, Rosenstock commented upon Cotton Mather’s observation, as far back as the 1700’s, that Americans tended to act as though they were all the same age. And speaking of today, it is impossible not to notice how many young parents act toward their own children, as if they were friends rather than parents. The children as a result seem often unable to find themselves. But does the denial of generational reality lead to violence, aggression, and self-righteous militarism? Sadly, we have the example of “American exceptionalism” –reviewed elsewhere on this blog—to thank for this.

But why would a deterioration of awareness of the generational covenant, a failure to honor and commemorate one's line of inheritance, lead to a society of aggressive militarism-- if indeed it does? Perhaps there are too many other factors at play here, and it is impossible, or presumptuous, to make a judgment. Still,  the matter bears thinking about, in my view. It is as if in the age of nuclear weapons we need to carefully rethink and rebuild our humanity from the ground up-- as a adventure in time. Perhaps if we were more appreciative of the time it takes to form humanity we could begin to overcome our infatuation with evolution and just dedicate ourselves to the slow steps of  creating the future--  of making  future possible.

                                                    * * *

On a personal note, my memoir of race, slavery, civil rights and religion in one Southern family over five generations, Stewards of History,  was originally subtitled “The Covenant of Generations in One Southern Family.” I later changed the subtitle to “A Study of the Nature of a Moral Deed.” But perhaps I should have kept it. My original subtitle was closer to the truth of the matter. We have hardly begun to fathom the significance of the generational  bond that attests to our humanity.

Two Additional Notes
February 16, 2017
[1] Ortega y Gasset's Man and Crisis [1958] contains two chapters relating to the generations-- "Generations in History" and "Again the Generation"--"the generation is the fundamental concept of history"--"...each human generation carries within itself all the previous generations..." And: "The presentiment that things are about the undergo a radical change before they actually do change should not surprise us, for it has always preceded the great historical mutations; also it is proof that such transformations are not imposed on humanity from without by the mere chance of external happenings, but emanate from interior modifications generated in the hidden recesses of man's soul."  Mankind is generational: this is our inward and indelible character and history, so to speak, is its outward manifestation. This is my objection to that popular work by Strauss and Howe, The Fourth Turning, where they say that man's "seasonal" nature (infancy, youth, middle age, elder, etc.) is the "cause" of the generational turnings that occur in history. But I would say that there are seasons in our life because we are born in generations. That is the inner reality. The authors have attempted, however, to characterize the succeeding generations in a way that resonates with unfolding historical events. It is an interesting and valuable  contribution, and shows that western mankind is beginning to seek an avenue out of the dogma of "Individualism."

[2] On another level entirely, the Russian thinker Nikolai Levashov (died June, 2011) in his book Russian History Viewed Through Distorted Mirrors  made an interesting comment concerning the attainment of a fully human status--  He says: "...the critical information content necessary for transition from the stage of reasoning animal to that of man requires the common experience of at least several generations of the whole human society. The greater the number of people who take part in the creation of this informational bank, the faster will the individual be able to transition from the stage of reasoning animal to human...."(p. 65)

It seems to me that the concept of the generations is enormously important. It is no accident that the dark and inhuman forces active in genetic manipulation today are threatening this foundation of our life.