31 janvier 2017

Faith and revolution. 2/4 The premiss of transcendence (Roger Garaudy)

THE ECUMENICAL REVIEW –  1973 - JANUARY - pages 59 to 79

 A lecture, transcribed from a recording, given at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, in
October 1972 on the occasion of an exhibition of books and journals in French (see
Ecumenical Diary , below). ROGER GARAUDY is Professor of Aesthetics in the University
of Poitiers, France. His books include From Anathema to Dialogue (English édition :
London, Collins and Co. and New York, Herder and Herder, 1966) and L'Alternative

(Paris, Robert Laffont, 1972). The lecture was translated from the French by the WCC
Language Service. The original is published in the Bulletin du Centre Protestant d'Etudes,
Geneva, 1973.
A Paris le 29 mai 1989 Roger Garaudy avec Dom Helder Camara. Getty Images/Pierre Verdy

II/ The premiss of transcendence

As I said just now, if the revolutionary outlook is not simply a reflection
of the already existing world but the vision of a social order which does
not yet exist, it follows — and this is a provisional statement of the
first premiss I wish to discuss — that the goals of revolutionary action
cannot be deduced simply from the past or the present. Man is always
something other and something more than the sum of the conditions
which have produced him. This is what distinguishes him from ail
other kinds of animal. Otherwise we should be relegated to an existence
determined solely by instinct. Echoing the Italian philosopher Vico,
Marx pointed out in Das Kapital that man was not responsible for the
evolution of nature but for his own history. Unlike natural evolution,
human history is of man's making.
This first premiss is no more than a premiss. We cannot here disguise
our assumptions and claim that we are revolutionaries by some sort of
rational argument or inescapable necessity. We posit the premiss that
it is possible for us to liberate ourselves from a given natural order and
to shape our own future. It is, if you like, a radical break with positivism.
Nothing is more conservative than positivism. By confining
human thought within the limits of the given, positivism necessarily
restricts human action to the limits of the established order, unless some
vision or plan emerges. If the empirical world of tangible data is selfcontained,
as the eighteenth century French materialists believed, man
is left with no room to make his own history. He is simply one element
in a purely physical process. It was Kant's Critique which rescued us
from precisely this impasse. The world of empirical experience is not
self-contained, not self-sufficient. Contemporary epistemology appears
to confirm this. Rejecting any naïve realism we have come to recognize
that every proposition concerning nature, history, or God, is a human
utterance. You can find this formula in Karl Barth applied to statements
about God, but I believe it is indeed the basis of ail critical thought.
You can find it in Kant, in Husserl and in Bachelard as well as in Barth.
Man's activity is creative activity, not least when he thinks, when he
conceives and elaborates possibilities, when he formulates hypotheses,
scientific models, ideals, utopias and visions. This activity is part of
I believe this to be one of the important ideas which we must hold to,
as against the positivism of Hegel and Marx. The possible, provided
we do not exclude man from it, is part of the real. Man must not be
arbitrarily excluded from reality, as he is in positivism — for positivism
means not only a world without God but also a world without man, a
world from which man has been abstracted. But if man belongs to
reality, then reality does not only consist of what already exists but also
of ail that does not yet exist, ail that is still lacking, ail that can still
become. As Fichte said long ago : 'The ideal is more real than the real.'
For the real is itself fashioned in accordance with the possibilities which
our minds conceive. If this possibility, this hypothesis, this vision, are
not already written into the past or the present, if the future is more than
simply the extrapolated extension of the past and the present, if something
new emerges, then we are compelled to recognize this other dimension
of reality, this constant possibility of surpassing the present, and
to recognize this as the most normal fact of daily experience. To give
it its proper name, transcendence is a fondamental dimension of
Transcendence is the dimension of reality which cannot but appear when
man's présence and créative activity are included in our definition of
reality. I go so far as to say that transcendence is man's chief attribute
inasmuch as he alone, unlike animals confined within the cycle of
repetitive behaviour, is a being who can take stock of his purposes
beforehand and by his efforts achieve something new.
This transcendence is an everyday experience, present in every creative
act : whether in the artist's creation, or in the research of the scientist
and technologist, or in love, sacrifice, or revolution ; in everything, that
is to say, where we break out of the circle of positivist knowledge and
rise above purely utilitarian actions designed to satisfy needs that belong
to the past.
If we fail to give this dimension its full weight, we end up in some form
or other of positivism ; the positivism of those who try to camouflage
their assumptions. Some will tell us that reality consists only of 'chance
and necessity'. Others will say that man is a puppet manipulated by the
'structures'. In both cases there is a denial that man is a real factor in
I realize that the term 'transcendence' poses certain problems, which
explain why Marxists have often been reluctant to use it. One difficulty
in using it is to avoid the irrational and supernatural connotations with
which it has been loaded and, above ail, the dualistic images which it
suggests. Certainly, if we are to use the word in a mature way, we cannot
entertain a pre-critical conception of transcendence. In other words,
we must never forget that what Barth said in a theological context is
also true of nature and history, namely, that everything I say is a human
This is vital even from a practical standpoint. For once this element of
self-criticism in ail human thinking is ignored, once we claim proprietary
rights over reality so as to be able to declare what it is, once we
claim to be the interpreter, the spokesman and even the agent of the
absolute, we are on the direct road to the Inquisition or to Stalinism.
For these are the logical and practical consequences of any assurance
that one possesses complete and final truth. Thereafter, when confronted
with people who disagree with us, we can only interpret this as evidence
of their sickness or ill-will, for which the only remedy is the psychiatric
ward or even the final exclusion of such people from society. Dogmatic
premisses seem, indeed, to allow no other solution, whether in the
Church of earlier centuries or more recently in Stalin's Russia.
A mature concept of transcendence cannot overlook the, to my mind,
permanent contribution of Marx's historical materialism. This may be
put very simply by saying that Marx has taught us to look for the driving
force of history within history itself. History is not made from outside,
neither by a destiny such as Greek thought posited, nor by a providence
extrinsic to human activity, nor by Hegel's 'absolute Spirit', nor by
progress in the naïvely optimistic, eighteenth century sense, nor even in
the sense of a dialectic of nature in which the human dialectic would
only be a special instance of a general rule, as Stalin and his followers
—myself once included — believed.
Pre-Marxist historians believed that history was ruled from outside.
Marx explored the possibility that the driving force was within human
history, arguing on the basis of the inertia of nature and the alienations
of society, but also of the initiatives of men creating their own history.
We can perhaps set alongside the dictum : 'Every statement made about
nature, history, or God is a human utterance' a parallel dictum summarizing
Marx's thought as follows : 'Everything which is done is done
by a man.' This means that we are fully responsible for our own history ;
a point of great practical consequence.

A vision of the Kingdom
How then is transcendence related to this faith, and to the idea of
revolution ?
A simple historical note to begin with. The first great revolutionary
movements, in Europe at any rate, ail more or less imbued with the
ideas of Joachim of Fiore, were based on a call to bring in the Kingdom
of God. I am thinking, for example, of the revolution led by John Huss
in Bohemia, of that led by Thomas Munzer at the time of the Reformation
and of the Peasants' War. It was Friedrich Schlegel who declared
that 'modem history began with the revolutionary desire to bring in
the Kingdom of God'. It seems to me important to recall this Christian
origin of the revolutionary attitude to the world.
Each of these visions of the Kingdom of God bears, of course, the
marks of the age in which it was conceived. It remains true however
that the vision is never simply derivative, as Lévy-Strauss would say,
never a patching together of elements from the past. What is envisaged,
even in utopian form, is always an order of society never previously
realized. In other words, every revolution is launched by the combined
thrust of poverty and oppression, revolt and, above ail, hope. This
seems to me fondamental.
Speaking of Thomas Munzer, whom Ernst Bloch described as the first
theologian of revolution, Marx (and Engels too) declared that Munzer's
revolutionary vision remained the most advanced of ail such visions
right down to the middle of the nineteenth century, i.e. until Marxism
itself. This messianism, like ail genuinely revolutionary movements,
indeed like ail specifically human activity, is in advance of history,
i.e. aware beforehand of its goals, and creative. The weakness of
utopian thinking is therefore not that it runs ahead of history ; on the
contrary, it is precisely this element that Marx admired in it and took
into his own thinking as an essential element in ail revolutionary thought.
No, the real weakness of utopian thinking is its failure to analyse the
necessary conditions and to devise the necessary techniques for achieving
its goal. These essentials are what Marx sought to provide, by
analysing and defining the social forces of his own day which were
capable of sustaining and achieving the revolutionary hope, and by
outlining the organization, the strategy and tactics which would bring
This is in no way in conflict with what Kierkegaard called a passion for
the possible. For what characterizes this Christian revolutionary tradition
from Joachim of Fiore to John Huss, from Thomas Munzer
to the theologies of hope and political theologies of our own day,
is that the Kingdom of God is not conceived as another world in
space and time, but as a different world, a changed world, a world
changed by our own efforts. The Kingdom of God is not a promise
we have passively to wait to be fulfilled but basically a task to be
This means that human history is where all the issues are settled. A
German theologian, Professor Karl Rahner, summed up the main
conclusions of the Second Vatican Council by saying : 'History is the
only place where the Kingdom of God is being built, and man is the
only field of theology.' This statement seems to me fundamental. It
radically frees the notion of transcendence of alien elements. To think
correctly of transcendence, it is essential first of ail to avoid approaching
it with dualistic Platonic spectacles, thinking in terms of body and soul,
of time and eternity, of a human earth and a heavenly world of 'forms'
— a dualism which is utterly foreign to the biblical tradition and which
has unfortunately distorted the Christian tradition for centuries. To
think correctly of transcendence we must also abandon the categories
of a prearranged eschatology, i.e. an eschatology which is thought of as
an advance description of the future, implying that history has already
been settled without us and apart from us ; this would be to return to
the notion of destiny or fate, as if the future were a scenario already
written in our absence. Eschatology does not mean telling ourselves :
'This is how it is all going to end.' It means reminding ourselves :
'Tomorrow can be different. Tomorrow cannot be reduced to factors
operative today.'
This biblical premiss of transcendence, it seems to me, is the basic
premiss of ail revolutionary activity. In my book L'Alternative I wrote
that revolution, like the arts, needs transcendence much more than it
needs realism. For a revolution, like a work of art, is not just a reflection
of existing reality but primarily an attempt to turn it into something
different. But such an attempt only makes sense and can only be successful
if, first, man is fully responsible for his history and is not simply
driven onward by his past ; if, second, man's activity in its specifie
human form, i.e. with prior awareness of a goal, furthers the continuous
création of man by man, and if, third, his imagination is able to invent
the future from out of a range of différent possibilities and dreams.
This transcendence, like hope an aspect of faith, is at the root of every
endeavour to rid history of fatalism. This is what makes it a liberating