My attention was drawn to this quite heavy philosophical piece – Carl Schmitt on Romanticism as a Form of Occasionalism, with a hat tip to David Sullivan who sometimes comments here.
I won’t go into the philosophical details or try to refute this, but I’ll raise a couple of points and leave the reader to sort it out for himself, assuming he is interested. Read the article and see if you understand something.
I do take exception to the idea of Romantics refusing the absolute and any kind of final authority to substitute oneself for God, the non serviam of Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles or whatever you want to call the Fallen Angel. Some Romantics might have lost faith in God and became narcissistic, by not all by any means. I find sweeping statements unsettling. Of course, the issue is invariably not the absoluteness and authority of God, but of the institutional Church and its power over the “secular arm”! Of course, no church has such influence nowadays, except perhaps the Patriarchate of Moscow. Even there, Russia is quite independent from anything when it wants to, including American capitalism…
Romanticism is a metaphysical attitude that places the individual subject at the centre. The romantic does not free himself from divine control in order to submit to some temporal power such as the state; his attempt is to free himself from every external power. Romanticism puts the individual human being in the place of God.
Eek! The early nineteenth century was still groaning its way out of Robespierre’s Reighn of Terror and Napoleon’s exploits were hardly reassuring. Perhaps Gregory XVI from his Pontifical throne in Rome was happy for the Church in France to labour under the “authority” of the dying embers of the Revolution and the short-lived restorations of the Monarchy. Actually, some of the Romantics appealed to the authority of the Pope. Yes, the Liberals were the progenitors of modern Ultramontanism, and Lammenais got excommunicated for his trouble. Seeking authority was a theme of many Romantics, until they discovered that there were higher things than authority, and that was not always “private judgement”.
If we were to accept the sweeping statements of this article, every work of art would have to be trashed, because man is doing the creating, not God.
The romantic, however, substitutes occasio for causa. He does not want to work upon the world. That would require submitting to the world and its laws. The romantic would rather play God and create something ex nihilo. That’s easier, more fun, and more ‘creative.’ He must be creative at all costs, and original to boot! Originality is a high value among the romantically inclined just so long as it is understood that he is the fons et origo. The source that interests him is not rooted in reality but rooted in him. He takes originality to be connected with novelty. What he wants is the new, not the true. Truth implies correspondence to a pre-given reality possessing an intrinsic intelligibility demanding his intellectual submission. The romantic, however, prefers dominance over submission. But he would dominate the world, not by working on it – which is hard work and requires an understanding of the world’s intrinsic workings – but by telling stories, painting pictures, and the like, with the world as the mere occasion of the telling and the painting, etc.
I don’t know what planet the author of this article came from. Probably conservative Roman Catholicism or Fundamentalist Protestantism. According to the author’s profile, he seems to be a retired academic specialised in philosophy and living in the desert. There is no indication of the authority he submits to other than his own whims. A Romantic (Schubert for music, Schleiermacher and Hegel for philosophy, Lord Byron for poetry, Chateaubriand for a revival of Catholicism in France, Charlotte Brontë for her novels – seems to be the last person to be seeking dominance to escape submitting to something (what?).
Who does not treat the world as an “occasion” or opportunity? There are many who are as far from Romanticism as night from day who take advantage of everything that comes under their gaze! We read an interesting reflection on novels (romans as they are called in French). I suppose film makers and journalists are also Romantics just because they create a fictitious reality?
Our desert hermit might be coming from somewhere, if he mentions nothing of the two Christian traditions to which I alluded:
Classically, then, occasionalism is at once both a theory of causation and a theory of how God is related to the world: God commands all the power and the world commands none. Theologically, this fits nicely with Islam’s emphasis on the radical transcendence, unity, and omnipotence of Allah.
Well, some people seek that degree of authority and the denial of western humanism in all forms.
Schmitt’s idea can be understood in part as follows. The romantic adopts a metaphysical stance in which the individual human subject is the centre, the final authority, the ultimate arbiter of the good, the true, and the beautiful. The individual subject takes over the role of God. The romantic subject must be creative and original at all costs. Since he cannot create the world ex nihilo, he creates fictions ex nihilo. He withdraws aesthetically from the world and its demands and enters a private world in which he is the “master builder in the cathedral of his own personality.” (PR 20) Worldly realities are thus demoted to the status of mere occasions of his romantic productivity.
There seem to be two kinds of people in the world: those who build and create art and beauty, and those who smash and destroy as they repeat slogans in praise of their “authority” and ideology. Between being a fanatical thug or a Romantic working out his way with God, I think I know what I would prefer.
A final idea occurs to me. There was a Romantic movement from the late eighteenth to the mid nineteenth century, and a neo-Romantic movement from about the time of the Pre-Raphaelites until the Great War. Surely the Romantics are all dead by now. Does the author of this article suspect that there might be a Romantic or two hiding under our beds? That is the question…