Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843)

The most important contribution of Jakob Fries to the Kantian tradition is his theory of justification and the manner in which he addresses the paradoxes of Immanuel Kant's "Transcendental Deduction" in the Critique of Pure Reason. The Friesian theory of justification may be found in the essay The Foundations of Value, Part II, Epistemological Issues:  Justification (quid juris) and Non-Intuitive Immediate Knowledge. Within this, the characterization by Karl Popper of the "Friesian Trilemma" is discussed under that link. Here I will discuss how Fries specifically responds to Kant and examine the controversy about Fries's political activity.

The greatest paradox of Kant's Transcendental Deduction in the Critique was how it was possible to certify or verify the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge when this must be done with arguments that will rest on premises that either are (1) synthetic a priori themselves, which would beg the question, or are (2) synthetic a posteriori and empirical, which would give us only empirical certainty for presumably non-empirical matters, reducing synthetic a priori knowledge to an a posteriori matter after all. The possibility that the premises could be analytic would not, and should not, have been seriously considered by either Kant or Fries, although that would have been the standard, traditional Rationalistic approach, as in Leibniz, as it later would be in Hegel. We may say that it was Hume who had eliminated that kind of appeal (what he called truths based on "relations of ideas").

While Hegel and others concluded that this dilemma rendered Kant's argument ineffective, circular, or unnecessary, Fries solved the problem with a distinction that is now commonplace but is still rarely noted by those who have bothered to address Fries's system:  the distinction between object language and meta-language, or between "system" and "critique." Thus, Fries would say that the object languages of metaphysics, ethics, etc., whose first principles would consist of synthetic a priori propositions, which in the case of ethics would also be propositions of value (with "ought") rather than propositions of fact (with "is"), are logically distinct from the meta-language description of them which is the actual content of Kant's "critique." Thus "critique" itself can be empirical a posteriori without this affecting in any way the a priori status of the object languages. Since "first principles," by Aristotle's own definition, cannot be proven anyway, we cannot understand Kantian "critique" to offer in any logically familiar sense a proof of synthetic a priori first principles. More detail on justification in this sense may be found in the essay cited above [note].

Because Fries thought that the empirical and a posteriori critique was psychological in nature (or "anthropological"), it became commonplace to accuse him of what has been called "psychologism," which we may take to be the doctrine that human knowledge merely reflects the forms of the human mind, the structures that the human psyche imposes upon the world. This accusation entirely failed to take into account the distinction between object language and meta-language, where the psychological, or whatever, nature of the critique would not affect in the slightest the objective character of the object languages, it merely refers to it. So far, only Leonard Nelson has properly understood the implications and success of Fries's theory; and he quickly recognized its affinity to the axiomatic mathematics of David Hilbert, which distinguished between the object languages of mathematics (formalized in axiomatic systems) and meta-mathematical meta-language (which describes the axiomatic systems and considers epistemological and metaphysical questions about them).

Nelson's own doctoral disseration demolished the accusations of "psychologism" against Fries by the self-sytled "Neo-Kantians" (such as Wilhelm Windelband) of Nelson's day. Even Karl Popper, otherwise an understanding and sympathetic commentator on Fries, produces his own mistaken accusation of "psychologism," i.e. that some sort of subjective (psychological) certainty is to be attributed to the first principles of the object languages. This would have been true for Hume, but not for Fries, where all mediate knowledge -- the manner in which we formulate propositions in concepts -- is fallible and corrigible. The objective certainty that may belong to first principles in themeselves, as immediate knowledge, is something that we might approach and approximate, but that is no more than what Karl Popper might have said himself.

Without Fries's evaluation of Kant, a proper understanding of Kant's system and approach has not progressed much in mainstream philosophy in nearly two centuries.

Against the rites, do not look; against the rites, do not listen;
Against the rites, do not speak; against the rites, do not act.

Confucius, Analects XII:1, translation after James Legge [1893], Arthur Waley [1938], D.C. Lau [1979], and Joanna C. Lee [2010]

Religion in Fries

While the basic epistemology of Jakob Fries is an essential starting point for Friesian philosophy, and a stark corrective for all philosophy after Kant, one of the most important directions of its subsequent development was for philosophy of religion. Fries rejected Kant's moralistic interpretation of religion and introduced the dimension of Ahndung, a category of aesthetic realism that could relate religion directly to things in themselves without the mediation, as in Kant, of morality. While this was progress, it was still not quite the right idea, since Fries replaced Kant's moralism with what was actually no more than an aestheticism, with little sense of the issues of salvation, holiness, ritual, atonement, pollution, etc. that are intrinsic and germane to religious matters. Thus, the only justification in Fries for religious "rites," as starkly endorsed by Confucius above, would be their aesthetic appeal, not the pious duty of their observance.

But Ahndung merely needed to be extended, with some phenomenological study, as was subsequently done by Rudolf Otto. Thus, while it is sometimes said that Otto's theory of numinosity was already covered by the earlier category of the sublime, we do not see in the description of the phenomena of the sublime in Edmund Burke or in Kant (the previous best theorists) the characteristic features that Otto discerned in numinosity. The numinous may be at times terrifying, which was a classical feature of the sublime, but the uncanny is a form of the frightening or terrifying that has a very different sense and valence from anything merely in aesthetic value. The respect owed to holy things is unique of its kind and is not to be found among merely natural objects, to which the phenomena of the sublime are otherwise confined. Indeed, the uncanny strongly bespeaks something supernatural, which escapes the judgment of both moral and aesthetic realms.

In both Fries and Nelson we have the curious case of a generalized respect for religion that nevertheless does not translate into much regard for the forms of any actual religion. We may even see hostility for historically important religions, with the distressing precedent of Kant's condemnation of Judaism. All these philosophers are still too rationalistic to even give the time of day to matters of ritual or pollution, except in the most perfunctory and aestheticized senses. Even the moral questions that lead to issues of repentance, forgiveness, salvation, and atonement leave them seriously confused and at a loss, which is a grave drawback when the Kantian tradition ostentively begins with only moral considerations. This is starkly illuminated by the very concept of "sin," from whose moral roots a tree extends far into matters of ritual observance and pollution. This is missing in Fries; yet he provided the epistemological and metaphysical foundation that Otto, with little difficulty, could adapt to the phenomena.

Republicanism in Fries

Fries occasionally comes in for note because of his political activities; and it is typical that when noticed, nothing of his thought is addressed beyond it. These activities present us with a very mixed bag, at once admirable and horrifying. The admirable part was Fries's opposition to the Prussian and Austrian reactionary regimes of the time. When Fichte died in 1814, both Fries and Hegel were proposed to replace him in the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin. Hegel did not occupy the chair until 1818, but Fries had already been disqualified by his republican and nationalistic activities.

In the historical context, German nationalism at the time would be seen as liberal, republican, radical, and revolutionary -- a tradition reflected in the black, red, and gold (Schwarzrotgold) flag of the movement later being used intially for the colors of Belgium in 1830 (more yellow than gold), in the Frankfurt National Assembly in 1848, by the Weimar Republic, and by both post-War German Republics. But these tendencies were not agreeable to Austria or Prussia, and Fries endangered himself by conspicuously associating with radical students and the Burschenshaften student fraternities -- which the Encyclopaedia Britannica still describes as "the Allgemeine Deutsche Burschenschaft (Young Germany Movement), a liberal, idealistic student association" -- a characterization that can be disputed but in some respects was accurate for the time.

Unwelcome in Berlin, Fries was offered the chair of philosophy at Jena, under the tolerant Grand Duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar (1775-1828), who had been the first German ruler to grant a written constitution in his domain. Austria and Prussia then became alarmed by the Wartburg Festival of the Burschenschaften in 1817, when, with the participation of 500 students from 12 universities, various symbols of tyranny (e.g. the Code Napoléon and a corporal's cane) and books regarded as reactionary or anti-German were burned.
Where one burns books, in the end one will burn people.

Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.

-- Heinrich Heine, 1820

Then in 1819 one of Fries's students, Karl Sand, assassinated the anti-liberal dramatist, historian, journalist, and reputed Russian spy August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue (1761-1819), one of whose books had been burned at Wartburg. Guided by Metternich, these and similar events were used to close off further liberal and constitutional reforms in Germany.

Already under fire from Austria and Prussia for his participation at Wartburg, Fries was finally dismissed from his philosophy chair after the assassination of Kotzebue and the subsequent anti-Semitic "Hep-Hep" riots. Karl August, however, then provided Fries with a chair in physics (1824), a subject Fries had taught previously at Heidelberg. Fries was able to live out his life in such relatively agreeable circumstances, and he was eventually allowed to teach philosophy again (1838).

We get a slightly different perspective on this in a book by Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom, the Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 [Belknap Press, Harvard, 2006]. Clark discusses the Wartburg Festival [pp.378-379] and the assassination of Kotzebue by Sand [pp.399-402] in some detail; but any reference to Jakob Fries is entirely missing from his book. We do hear of professors who were dismissed because of their association with Sand and the Burschenshaften, including the theologian at Berlin, Wilhelm de Wette (a friend of Fries who wrote a sympathetic letter to Sand's mother), and the historian at Bonn, Ernst Moritz Arndt. But the philosopher at Jena, Fries, nothing. This makes it sound like Fries's role was far more peripheral and incidental than either his supporters or his critics have given us to understand. Or perhaps Clark found the man so distasteful that he decided to ignore him. I can't tell. But Clark also gives us a larger picture of resistance to the conservatives than just from the Burschenshaften.

The black, red, and gold colors of the republican flag came from one of the groups of "volunteer rangers" (freiwillige Jäger), the Lützow Rangers, who had joined the regular and militia forces in fighting against Napoleon. The rangers were celebrated as free and willing volunteers whose dedication was to Germany, not to Prussia or any particular state. This tended to annoy the authorities, who wanted the war seen in terms of authority, not as a spontaneous uprising of the people. Just such a popular upwelling, however, was promoted, not just by the Burschenshaften, but also by the Turnbewegung, the "gymnasts' movement," founded by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in 1811. Physical health was the flip side of citizen volunteers for Jahn.

In the aftermath of the Kotzebue assassination, Jahn was arrested, his gymnastic societies were closed, and he was subsequently imprisoned. This was much harsher treatment than what Fries and the other academics received. Also arrested was a noble military supporter of Jahn, Hans Rudolf von Plehwe. This man introduced jogging, which really only came into general vogue, of course, in the 1970's. Von Plehwe had been at Wartburg and was arrested after participating in a rally in support of Jahn.

But by the time Sand was executed (by decapitation), Clark says that he had become a "celebrity" -- regarded rather like the Japanese assassins of the 1920's & '30's. Indeed, like them, Sand made an attempt at suicide immediately after the assassination, to show, like them, his sincerity. Later, the executioner himself is supposed to have dismantled the blood-stained scaffold and built a shrine for "pilgrims who had come to honour the memory of the dead patriot" [p.401]. Thus, all of this was a public spectacle and sensation that displayed little contribution from Jakob Fries.

Clark's treatment gives us a bit more perspective on the politics of which Fries was a part, but it also leaves the impression that Fries was not one of the most conspicuous leaders or principals of the republican movement. Sand may have been one of Fries's students; but, dressed in clothes of the Turnbewegung, the influences on his behavior went far beyond any ideas, unique exhortations, or involvement from Fries.

However, Clark does disappoint by not including Fries in his treatment; and one would like to see some discussion about whether Kotzebue really was anything like a Russian spy, as had been the accusation. Indeed, Kotzebut had spent many years in Russia, back and forth, worked for the Russian government, had estates there, married a noble Russian woman, and in 1817 was made Russian consul in Germany. This made him, the very least, an actual Russian agent, if not an actual spy. I suspect that the accusation of spying probably reflected the sort of paranoia about spies that we've seen in recent history, as, when I was a student at the American University of Beirut (1969-1970), I was sometimes asked, even in a friendly way, if I worked for, or was being trained to work for, the CIA. On the other hand, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that anyone working as a Russian diplomatic agent would have had something to do with, or at least knowledge of, any Russian intelligence operations.

Clark explains Sand's antipathy for Kotzebue only in terms of the purported "effeminacy" of his plays, and of his publicly stated contempt for the Burschenshaften. It is hard to know from this why Sand should have singled out Kotzebue from all the reactionaries whom he might have targeted. It seems like a Prussian minister would have been more to the point. Since Kotzebue was popular, had no sympathy for German nationalism or liberalism, and had many personal and professional ties to Russia, he must have seemed both particularly conspicuous and threatening.

We get a brief reference about Kotzebue from Niall Ferguson, who says, "When August von Kotzebue -- a minor hack reputed to be in the pay of the Tsar -- was murdered in Mannheim by a radically inclined student, Karl Sand, it suited Metternich quite well as the pretext for a crackdown on liberal tendencies throughout the German Confederation" [The House of Rothschild, Money's Prophets, 1798-1848, Penguin, 1998, 1999, p.127]. This leaves us with the impression that Kotzebue was assassinated because of his "reputed" connection to the Russians, something Clark did not mention, and that this business was associated, not with proto-Nazis, but with "liberal tendencies." But both Clark and Ferguson seem to have missed that Kotzebue actually was "in the pay of the Tsar," quite openly.

Ferguson does not get into any details of what a "radically inclinded student" would have believed, or what the Wartburg Festival might have represented; and the whole dimension of the "effeminancy," or anything else, of Kotzebue's plays is lost in Ferguson's dismissive term "minor hack." We get no sense that the murder created the kind of sensation that Clark describes, and between Clark and Ferguson it is not clear just how significant a figure, at the time, Kotzebue really was, or why Sand would have targeted him. But Kotzebue was significant enough that in 1812 Beethoven approached him to write the libretto for an opera. This never happened -- Fidelio (originally Leonore, 1805, 1814) was Beethoven's only opera -- but Beethoven did write some music for two of Kotzebue's plays. Evidently Kotzebue's reactionary sentiments and Russian entanglements were not enough to put off Beethoven.

In his essay on 'The Religion of Sublimity' (1982), Yirmiahu Yovel has pointed out a certain inconsistency in Hegel's systematization of religions, an inconsistency which does not result directly from the very principle of Hegel's philosophy but expresses rather a contingent, empirical prejudice of Hegel's as an individual, and can therefore be rectified by consequent use of Hegel's own dialectical procedure. This inconsistency concerns the place occupied respectively by Jewish and by ancient Greek religion: in Hegel's Lessons on the Philosophy of Religion, Christianity is immeditely preceded by three forms of the 'religion of spiritual individuality': the Jewish religion of Sublimity [Erhabenheit], the Greek religion of Beauty, and the Roman religion of Understanding [Verstand]. In this succession the first, lowest place is taken by the Jewish religion -- that is, Greek religion is conceived as a higher stage in spiritual development than the Jewish religion. According to Yovel, Hegel has here given way to his personal anti-Semitic prejudice, because to be consistent with the logic of the dialectical process it is undoubtedly the Jewish religion which should follow the Greek.

Slavoj Žižek, "The Sublime Object of Ideology" [1989], The Sublime, Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel Gallery, The MIT Press, 2010, p.56.

Hegel's own incoherent "dialectical procedure" or "process" is as arbitrary as he would want it to be. But there is something confused about accusing Hegel of "inconsistency" when his whole method is built on contradictions -- and, of course, the implication here is that the collective spirituality of Christianity, as imagined by Hegel, is superior to the individualism of the other three forms of religion, however prioritized. Slavoj Žižek, meanwhile, whatever his scruples about anti-Semitism, is himself a repellent advocate of communist terrorism and mass murder. No kidding.

Vade Retro Satana, Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana;
Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas.

Get thee behind me Satan!
Never tempt me with your vanities!
What you offer me is evil.
Drink the poison yourself!

Medal of St. Benedict

Anti-Semitism in Fries

Admirable and progressive as the republican movement, apart from the celebration of Sand, may make the political commitments of Jakob Fries seem, there was a side to it even darker than a fortunately unrepeated assassination. In criticizing Fries, Shlomo Avineri [Hegel's Theory of the Modern State, Cambridge University Press, 1972, pp. 119-122], has correctly pointed out that German nationalism was already displaying some of its worst tendencies, including the book burning at the Wartburg Festival and anti-Semitism, which included attacks on Jews directly in the "Hep-Hep" riots of 1819 (from the cry, "Hep-Hep! Jude verreck [die]!"), to the distress of Jewish students who had actually participated at Wartburg.

These violent disorders, which continued from August to October and included direct attacks on the offices of the Rothschild bankers in the Judengasse, the street of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt, helped spur the actions of Metternich, with whose measures even the modern liberal might no longer find fault. Fries himself contributed an infamous and disgraceful anti-Semitic tract at the time, the Endangering of German Welfare and Character by the Jews (Über die Gefährdung des Wohlstandes und Charakters der Deutschen durch die Juden, 1816). The truly horrifying overtones of this led Avineri to dismiss Fries and the Burschenschaften, not as "liberal, idealistic," but as proto-Nazis; and he attributed the affinity between them all to the subjectivism and irrationality of Fries's thought.

This repeats a charge from Hegel himself, who also conspicuously condemned Fries's anti-Semitism, in a passage that is often all that academic philosophers have ever heard of Fries. Morally, Hegel did have a leg up on Fries, since he defended civil rights for Jews and apparently protected Jewish students, ironically (perhaps) in the local (Heidelberg) chapter of the Burschenschaften -- although Berthold Auerbach (1812-1882) would later complain that Hegel had not condemned the Hep-Hep riots. But, as we shall see below, Hegel was not himself entirely free of the anti-Semitic Zeitgeist of the age, and he is rarely upbraided with this, while Fries receives full blame.

At the same time, the charge of subjectivism and irrationality in general is nonsense when applied to Fries. There was actually nothing particularly rational about Hegel's obscurantism and speculative dogmatism, whatever he called it -- and both he and later Hegelians absurdly called it "Logic" -- and Hegel's view of Fries's (and Kant's) system as subjectivist, however consistent it was with the Romantic and foolish overtones of German culture at the time (from which we get Sturm und Drang), is ridiculous. In taking Hegel's conception of "reason" and "rationality" seriously, Avineri is clearly an apologist for Hegel, willing to uncritically promote Hegel's own technical and tendentious characterization of his opponents -- and blind to the circumstance that "Hegel's Theory of the Modern State," in which the individual disappears, provided a theory of the later absolutist, totalitarian state of the Fascists and Communists. Is that inevitably the "Modern State" that Avineri describes? Doe he agree with it? What business does an Israeli Jew like Shlomo Avineri have promoting this stuff? It makes him sound like a fool.

Politically, there is certainly enough blame to go around. The mix of ideas found later in National Socialism owes as much to Hegel as to the evils advocated or practiced by Fries and the Burschenschaften. From the Neoplatonic (and perhaps Aristotelian) doctrine that God only knows universals, Hegel produced the modern totalitarian idea of the state, where the individual as such is "abstract" and irrational -- only the State, as the historical expression of Geist, "spirit" or "mind," is real and rational.

While Hegel apologists often deny that Hegel's theory was of this sort, my impression is that, when the chips are down, the apologists themselves turn out to be collectivists and statists, with little sympathy for "bourgeois" individualism or classical liberalism, and sometimes even for individual rights and free speech -- rights and civil liberties that remarkably may be called "Fascism" at American universities -- someone once called me a "liberal fascist," which involves considerable confusion in different ways -- and it probably meant that the speaker would be one of those attacking free speech and honest debate in contemporary colleges. The project of creating a totalitarian police state has been adopted by the Democrat Party, in league with anarchists and communists, who have succeeded in spreading their lies and evils through much of American society, including the cowardly culture of business corporations.

Certainly, Hegel's doctrine was agreeable and conformable to the attitude and practice of the Kingdom of Prussia; and Hegel's Philosophy of Right of 1821 was widely regarded, by everyone from Schopenhauer to Marx, as Hegel's justification and rationalization for the regime whose employee, spokesman, and apologist he had become. The same regime, thus promoted, later co-opted German nationalism for its own purposes, grafting onto the same horrifying tendencies of German nationalism all the unlimited power and absolute authority of Hegel's Geist. This separated Republican Schwarzrotgold from the Nationalistic Schwarzweißrot -- black, white, and red -- the colors of the German Empire and Nazi Germany. Colors now used to smear, of all things, Snow White.

Anti-Semitism developed apace during the 19th century. There were even further riots against Jews, as in Stuttgart in 1873. There was a large-scale, political "Antisemitic Campaign" in 1879-1881. That culminated in the "Antisemite's Petition" of 1880, which was a bill debated in parliament to roll back the civil rights of Jews. Bismarck would have none of it, but the extent and virulence of anti-Jewish sentiment is still shocking [cf. Paul Lawrence Rose, German Quesiton/Jewish Question, Revolutionary Antisemitism from Kant to Wagner, Princeton, 1990, pp.236-244].

In the late Empire, it was a bad sign that Wilhelm II's Kaiserin simply refused to visit Wilhelm's Jewish friends -- like Albert Ballin, president of Hapag, Hamburg's largest shipping line and the principal means by which immigrants, particularly Jewish immigrants (who were provided with kosher food), were reaching America. The Kaiser would be a guest at Ballin's estate, "Little Potsdam" (a miniature of the Imperial palace), and solicit his advice. The Kaiser's grandmother, the Empress Augusta (1811-1890), had earlier patronized Jewish charities.

But even Wilhelm would not be free of anti-Semitism, and by the 1920's he was actually saying, from exile, that the Jews should be gassed [Rose, p.386, note]. The review of a recent Wilhelm biography expands on this:

Wilhelm became increasingly anti-Semitic in the period covered by this volume, particularly after defeat in 1918; he believed the Jews to be behind an international conspiracy to destroy Germany. In his cranky retirement, he demanded that Germans not "rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated [ausgerottet]." [Brendan Simms, "The Last King of Prussia," Wilhelm II, by John Röhl, Cambridge, The Wall Street Journal, May 3-4, 2014, C6]

The new element into the mix was the anti-Semitism of Marx himself and other "revolutionary" socialists, for whom Jews now were class enemies, symbolic and more, of Capitalist exploitation.

The worse secret of the Twentieth Century is how the hellish payoff of all this was on both the political Left and the political Right. Where for Hitler the "plutocrat" Jews were rather more important as race enemies than as class enemies, Stalin's policies, beginning with class enemies, insensibly shaded over into racial interpretations also. The "Jewish doctors' plot" was the telling culmination of Stalin's career. Most importantly, both Hitler and Stalin, like Hegel's Geist, only knew people as universals -- as classes or races -- to be impersonally lauded or exterminated. True liberal principles of individual liberty have been steadily ground down, even in the democracies, between the statist millstones of Left and Right.

Neither in Fries's era nor in the 20th century can anti-Semitism as such be taken as a clue to either rightist or leftist political affinities. As Paul Johnson says in his A History of the Jews [HarperPerennial, 1987]:

On the one hand, following Voltaire, the rising European left began to see the Jews as obscurantist opponents to all human progress. On the other, the forces of conservatism and tradition, resenting the benefits the Jews derived from the collapse of the ancient order, began to portray the Jews as the allies and instigators of anarchy. Both could not be true. Neither was true. But both were believed. [p. 309]

Johnson's reference to Voltaire included a citation from his Dictionnaire philosophique [1756]:

Their [i.e. the Jews] residence in Babylon and Alexandria, which allowed individuals to acquire wisdom and knowledge, only trained the people as a whole in the art of usury ... they are a totally ignorant nation who for many years have combined contemptible miserliness and the most revolting superstition with a violent hatred of all those nations which have tolerated them." [Voltaire, quoted by Johnson, p. 309]

A similar caution against applying modern political categories to 18th and 19th century anti-Semitism, especially German anti-Semitism, is recommended by Paul Lawrence Rose in German Quesiton/Jewish Question. The sort of initial observation above, that Fries's political activities were "at once admirable and horrifying," is well explored by Rose, who explains at length how what now to liberal opinion appears to be incoherent and paradoxical -- that the liberal and progressive opinion of its day, as in Kant, nevertheless could comfortably accommodate anti-Semitic views that now look to be the essence of evil and reaction.

Rose provides much more about the place and context of Fries than does Christopher Clark, although the two treatments are complementary in many ways. If we might not have suspected Voltaire of anti-Semitic sentiments, we learn that Immanuel Kant, and even Hegel (for all his denunciation of Fries), were not innocent of promoting anti-Semitic ideas. Thus, as I have discussed elsewhere, Kant denied that Judaism was even a religion, because it did not measure up, in his estimation, to the high and defining moral standard that Kant (absurdly and ahistorically) laid down for the meaning of "religion." But Kant also had objections to the Jews in a vein similar to those of Voltaire:

The Palestinians [!] who live among us owe their not undeserved reputation for cheating (at least the majority of them) to their spirit of usury which has possessed them ever since their exile. Certainly it seems strange to conceive of a nation of cheats, but it is just as strange to conceive of a nation of [pure/honest] traders, most of whom -- tied by an ancient [admitted] superstition -- seek no civil honor from the state where they live, but rather to restore their loss at the expense of those who grant them protection as well as from one another. [Rose, op.cit., p.94, color and bracket added]

Die unter uns lebenden Palästiner sind durch ihren Wuchergeist seit ihrem Exil, auch was die größte Menge betrifft, in den nicht ungegründeten Ruf des Betruges gekommen. Es scheint nun zwar befremdlich, sich eine Nation von lauter Kaufleuten zu denken, deren bei weitem größter Teil, durch einem alten, von dem Staat, darin sie leben, anerkannten Aberglauben verbunden, keine bürgerliche Ehre sucht, sondern dieser ihren Verlust durch die Vorteile der Überlistung des Volks, unter dem sie Schutz finden, und selbst ihrer untereinander, ersetzen wollen. [Immanuel Kant, «Anthropologie», Werkausgabe XII, Schriffen zur Anthropologie, Geschichtsphilosophie, Politk und Pädagogik 2, Herausgeben von Wilhelm Weisschedel, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 193, Insel-Verlag Wiesbaden 1964, pp.517-518, note, color added; note]

This disturbing and extraordinary passage not only reflects the prejudices just seen in Voltaire, but it exposes attitudes in philosophy, against trade and finance (q.v.), that are not only ancient, ignorant, foolish, and dishonorable but which continue in the radicalized modern leftist academy, to the corruption and harm of education and political life in the advanced democracies -- contributing its own force to modern and continuing anti-Semitism, conspicuously manifest as calumnies and protests against Israel, but with a strong undercurrent of simple hatred for capitalism, commerce, and finance, where trade and finance, practiced by anyone and not just Jews (although they are still there), necessarily exploit, defraud, rob, and oppress the innocent and helpless masses (but for the intervention of a Leninist Vanguard, i.e. the Democratic Party).
Where one burns books, in the end one will burn people.

Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.

-- Heinrich Heine, 1820

In the era of Kant, Hegel, and Fries, opposition to the the Jews was rationalized in terms of the moral backwardness of Judaism in general and of the moral corruption that attended Jewish business in particular. Both of these were then interpreted as alien factors and dangers to the German nation. The common recommendation, that Judaism be eliminated, expressed by Kant in the chilling term "the euthanasia of Judaism" (Die Euthanasie des Judentums), at the time meant the moral and practical conversion of the Jews to either Christianity, honest labor, or Enlightened, rational sentiments, which would eliminate Judaism entirely as a religion, a culture, a way of life, and a distinct community.

But this was often expressed in such ambiguous and heated terms that the same recommendation could later be recycled with calls, not just for the explusion, but for the physical destruction of the Jews -- as the Nazis actually attempted to accomplish. Kant's expression of "euthanasia" thus stands out in retrospect, to his shame, as a kind of prophecy of genocide.

In the absence of the racial theories of the later 19th century, the destruction of the Jews as a race is not something that we see in the earlier era -- although things like the much earlier "purity of blood" laws in Spain look a whole lot like a full racism before its time, although the Spanish case (unless the Inquisition got involved) only featured legal disabilities.

The program of eliminating Judaism and, in effect, the Jews through moral reform is also seen in Hegel, despite his support for civil rights for Jews and condemnation of the anti-Semitism of Fries. And then there is Marx. In each of them, Judaism is represented as an evil or an anachronism that the progress of history will overcome. As it happens, there is an overlap between Hegel and Marx in the way that this is done. Paul Lawrence Rose describes the problem in Hegel:

Yet if Hegel supported the Prussian Edict of Emancipation and publicly defended Jewish students, his support arose out of his general theory of the state and that created a difficulty. For Hegel, "civil society" -- the stage of society in which man was not a free, genuinely social man, but merely one who obeyed his own selfish interests and the laws imposed by external authority -- was most aptly symbolized by Judaism, the religion of divinely imposed Law. The higher form of the state, however, would make men free and genuinely social in a regime of reason and love, just as Christianity had superseded Judaism. Hegel, therefore, came back indirectly to his youthful Kantian view that Judaism was ethically inferior to Christianity; but he now embodied this view in a grand philosophical-historical system that always required that Judaism be interpreted as a superseded phase of world history. [op.cit. p.115]

We see this issue turn up in the discussion by the Hegelian Slavoj Žižek in the epigraph above, where the moral deficiency of Judaism is coupled with that of Greek and Roman religion in relation to Christianity. The idea that civil society, the sphere of private activity, is a place of immoral selfishness and "atomic" individualism, identified by Hegel with the moral primitiveness of Judaism, was of course similarly promoted by Marx, with civil society falsely characterized as the place of the "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes) in laissez-faire capitalism -- when civil society, of course, simply means the place of voluntary relationships, unlike the coercion and slavery of every government that has attempted to implement Marxism.

The idea that civil society will be eliminated, either by the Hegelian dialectic of history or by the Marxist proletarian revolution (also part of a dialectic of history), not only by definition thereby eliminates Judaism -- as Marx explicitly asserts -- but it also provides the theory for the modern totalitarian state, in which privacy is gone and all human relations become matters of politics, political values, and political control, i.e. political moralism.

I am not sure if this is what Hannah Arendt meant by the origins of totalitarianism in anti-Semitism, but that is a connection that can certainly be made. The dialectical priority accorded to Judaism, criticized by Žižek, may be seen as praise for the introduction of individualism or perhaps as blame, in retrospect, for just that introduction. It is noteworthy that both Yirmiahu Yovel and Žižek regard Hegel's construction as the result of personal anti-Semitism, despite the traditional regard shown Hegel for his opposition to Fries's anti-Semitism. But it is obviously not just personal. The rejection of the individual is a theoretical necessity for Hegel.

In the development of nationalistic anti-Semitism from Kant to Fries, Rose reserves a large place for Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814):  "Fichte's apotheosis in the public consciousness of modern Germany as the founding spirit of 'Germanness' means that he bears a large responsibility for the rise of both revolutionary and nationalist Jew-hatred" [p.131]. Rose also refers to Fichte in this way:  "...Fichte believed it will-nigh impossible to humanize the Jews since Jewish vice was so embedded in Jewish heads that it would disappear only when those heads were replaced with new ones" [p.69]. In this respect, Fichte was also identified (with Hegel) as an embarrassment to philosophy by Julian Benda (1867-1956) in his classic, La Trahison des Clercs [1927]:

It was reserved for our own age to see metaphysicians of the greatest eminence turning their speculations to the exaltation of their own countries and to the depreciation of other countries, fortifying the will to power of their compatriots with all the power of abstractive genius. Fichte and Hegel made the triumph of the German world the supreme and necessary end of the development of Being.... It will be the eternal shame of the German philosophers to have transformed the patrician virgin who honored the Gods [i.e. metaphysics] into a harpy engaged in shrieking the glory of her children. [The Treason of the Intellectuals, 1928, translated by Richard Aldington, Transaction Publishers, 2007, pp.77-78, boldface added]

I was a philosophy student for many years, and knew graduate students who actually specialized in Fichte, without knowing anything of this about him. It is thus instructive to see Rose link Fichte with Fries:

The most public and rancorous manifestation of the revolutionary nationalist spirit of Fichte broke forth in the student Burschenschaften fraternities that appeared after 1815. Although their immediate impetus came from such "Germanomaniacs" as E.M. Arndt and Friedrich Jahn, the logical capacity of development into dangerous nationalism and antisemitism inherent in Fichte's doctrines made them extremely influential. Significantly, Fichte's leading disciple, the philosopher Jakob Fries (1773-1843), took a prominent role in the formation of these intolerantly nationalistic and anti-Jewish associations. Very often described as freedom-seeking "democratic" groups, the Burschenschaften had, in fact (as Saul Ascher noted), taken up the French ideal of liberty and Germanized it so that it became a peculiarly German revolutionary myth embodying primitive nationalistic and Teutonic enthusiasms. [op.cit. p.125, boldface added]

Here we get some of the sort of information missing in Clark's book. According to Rose, Fries had a "prominent role" in no less than the "formation" of the Burschenschaften; and Rose also says that Fries "instigated" the Wartburg Festival [p.130]. At the same time, it is striking and also perplexing that Rose would call Fries "Fichte's leading disciple." In what sense? It may be no more than in this matter, but it leaves us wondering if the discipleship was immediate and personal, as if Fries had been Fichte's student (he was eleven years younger), or remote and indirect, as if Fries had merely read or heard Fichte.

Otherwise, in philosophy, it is hard to discern any connection between Fries and Fichte whatsoever. Rose's treatment of Fries subordinates him so thoroughly to Fichte that he isn't even named in a characteristic statement like this:  "But this does not mean that Kant, Fichte, and Herder were 'racists,' instensely hostile to Judaism as they were" [p.63] -- a sentence that affirms Rose's impression that these men really didn't like the Jews, but that racism as now understood really didn't exist before 1860. Indeed, Rose says:

Thus, Fries reproaches the [Friedrich] Rühs school for implying that there was a "racial quality in this people" (Rasse in Volk) that might forever bar them from full civil rights! [p.130, boldface added]

Nelson's extensive critique of Fichte in Progress and Regress in Philosophy [Volume II, translated by Humphrey Palmer, Basil Blackwell, 1971, pp.55-70], not only says nothing about any relationship of Fichte with Fries, but identifies multiple points in Fichte's philosophy, including the rejection of things-in-themselves, the failure to distinquish between critique and system, and the purported use of "intellectual intuition," that are profoundly un-Kantian and un-Friesian in substance. Since Nelson does not discuss the politics of Fries or Fichte, and has no interest in German (or any) nationalism, it is not surprising that the whole issue should pass under his radar. However, we cannot avoid addressing the problem, especially in light of the events -- i.e. with the Nazis -- that took place after Nelson's death.

Just as people might be surprised to find anti-Semitism in Voltaire or Kant, we might also be surprised to find it in Goethe; Niall Ferguson performs this service:

When marriage between Jews and Gentiles was legalised in Frankfurt -- one of a number of minor concessions wrung from the Frankfurt Senate in the 1820s -- the eighty-year-old Goethe was moved to comment:

This scandalous law will undermine all family sense of morality, intimately associated with religion as it is. When this passed, how can a Jewess be prevented from becoming Principal Lady of the Bed Chamber? Who knows whether or not bribery has played a role in all this; who knows whether or not the all-powerful Rothschilds are behind it?

If so august and enlightened a figure could express such a view, it is no wonder the Rothschilds were content to see popular participation in German political life kept to a minimum. [op.cit., pp.141-142]

Frankfurt, the home of the Rothschilds, was a Free City at the time, with its own self-government -- hence the role of the "Frankfurt Senate." "Popular participation" seemed to be the source of a great deal of anti-Semitism, with riots over several centuries, while the Jews had always been protected by the Emperors and generally by other rulers. Nevertheless, the old aristocracy, in sentiment like Goethe, probably was not too keen on intermarriage between the religions. There is an aspect to this that now seems bizarre, but it involves attitudes so ingrained that we might imagine Fries afloat in a veritable sea of it. That "liberals" could be anti-Semitic may take some getting used to, but then we have come full circle to this now -- although true leftists do openly despise "liberalism," with its quaint and sinister notions of free speech and conscience, along with "neo-liberalism," i.e. capitalism

Fashionable Anti-Semitism Excused

So if Fries was simply anti-Semitic, this means all his thought is just (and justly) discredited? Right? Well, anti-Semitism, while repellent in Fries or anyone, tends to be excused or ignored when found in those who are more politically favored or intellectually fashionable, or where the rest of their ideas are regarded as worthy in themselves and unrelated to attitudes towards the Jews. Thus, anti-Semitism expressed or practiced by Voltaire, Kant, Hegel, Goethe, Marx, Nietzsche, Gottlob Frege, or
Heidegger! He was a fucking Nazi!
-- the response of Kees Bolle (1927-2012), Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Religion, UCLA, a person not given to crude language, in oral response to a report about Mark C. Taylor promoting Heidegger at Williams College, 1989
Martin Heidegger is hardly even noticed, if not deliberately ignored, by their advocates [note].

All this even though Heidegger was actually a member of the Nazi Party and a functionary of the Nazi regime, and even though Marx provided the "dialectical" justification for even our contemporary leftist anti-Semitism, as found for instance in leftist campus radicals, or in both crude and more sophisticated (i.e. dissimulating) forms of Islamism, which are also reflected in anti-Israel protests at American colleges. Columbia University has recently been identified as the most anti-Semitic school in the United States; and in 2021 Rutgers University, after new terrorist attacks on Israel, was forced to apologize for its own condemnation of anti-Semitism. That is not a typo. Rutgers apoligized for its own condemnation of anti-Semitism.

Since Nietzsche had a great many harsh things to say about the Jews, in books that are commonly read, a small apologetic industry has grown up to defend him. Nietzsche's theory that the distortion of morality into a mechanism for protecting the weak was the result of the vindictive hatred conceived by the Jews for the "noble races" who conquered them, however, would seem at once to discredit him as a moralist and simultaneously to convict him, all by itself, as an anti-Semite. If the excuse for Voltaire or Marx or Frege or Heidegger is that the rest of their thought is too important or edifying to be dismissed because of one reprehensible viewpoint, then Hegelian apologists like Avineri (who don't seem to notice the anti-Semitism woven into Hegel's system) are certainly not justified in using the same failing to tar and dismiss Fries's thought as a whole. The only substantive claim is that Fries's anti-Semitism followed from the "irrationality" of his thought, but this is a charge as well directed against Hegel himself, and most excellently made against Nietzsche and Heidegger, who make no pretense of rationality.

Unlike Karl Popper, I do not think that Heidegger should be shunned just because of his moral and political failings. There are some interesting, albeit limited, ideas there, which I have used myself. Yet not only was Heidegger an actual member of the Nazi Party, but as late as 1966 he said, in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine that was not released until after his death, that "National Socialism indeed went in the right direction" -- der Nationalsozialismus ist zwar in die Richtung gegangen [Heidegger, The Introduction of Nazism Into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935, by Emmanuel Faye, translated by Michael B. Smith, foreword by Tom Rockmore, Yale University Press, 2009, p.242]. Any sin of Fries pales besides the folly and moral corruption revealed by this statement, from a man who participated in the regime he extoles and who had had twenty years to reflect on the crimes against humanity that it had committed. In a way, pace Sir Karl, this may actually make it more important to consider his thought and its implications, along with the cluelessness, folly, or viciousness of his apologists.

The same with Nietzsche, who, after all, can be very entertaining -- and even Hegel with his proto-totalitarianism must be addressed. In turn, Fries's thought should be evaluated as a whole. But, unlike apologists for Nietzsche or Heidegger, I see no point in trying to deny that he was an anti-Semite. As it happens, when I met Paul Branton in 1984 and asked him, as I had once been asked, about Fries's anti-Semitism, he sputtered in outrage. This from a man who fled Hitler's Austria to Palestine, who witnessed the Arab Revolt of 1936 (which means that people were killed right in front of him), and who joined the Royal Navy to fight Germany during World War II -- incongruously carrying around a copy of Leonard Nelson's Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, a practice that must have looked very odd to his fellow sailors.

Although Branton may have had before his mind the sterling anti-Nazis qualities of Nelson's circle, he did not actually meet any of them until after the War. Thus, it was the ideas that attracted him, and in reading Nelson he found no hint, and had no thought, of Fries's attitude toward the Jews -- although Nelson's attitude towards religion differs little from Kant's in its harshness and ahistoricity. Similarly, we get the drift of Popper's standards, not only in the exhortation that people should ignore Heidegger, but in that after the War Popper refused offers of teaching positions in Germany or Austria, precisely because of what had been done there. What he may not have known is that professors who were former Nazis and collaborators generally escaped the consequences of their behavior and returned to their positions, and even to anti-Semitic discourse, after the War (see Yvonne Sherratt, "The Nuremberg Trials and Beyond," Hitler's Philosophers [Yale, 2013, pp.229-263]). He would not have enjoyed dealing with them as colleagues. At the same time, Julius Kraft, Nelson's principal student and a relative of Popper's, who had lost members of his own family in the Holocaust, did return to Germany, with the intention of laboring to set things right. Like Nelson and Kraft, Popper did not use the dark side of Fries's politics in order, merely by association, to impeach the rest of his thought.

The fundamental question to ask is how an expression of anti-Semitism relates, indeed, to the rest of a philosopher's thought. Anti-Semitism as a form of racist ideology was essential to the political theory of the Nazis; yet such racism seemed to be missing in Heidegger (which is what I thought until recently; but now see the revelations of Emmanuel Faye) and also in Fries -- especially since such ideology didn't exist yet in the early 19th century. It is not missing in Nietzsche, who freely uses expressions like die Herren Rasse, the "Master Race," or "Race of Masters." If anti-Semitism occurs, as in Marx, because of envy, distaste, misunderstanding, and hatred of successful middleman economic minorities, just as Chinese were hated in Indonesia, Indians in Uganda, Lebanese in Ghana, Japanese in California, or Koreans in Harlem, then the problem is clearly originally one of hatred and misunderstanding of capitalism and the conditions for economic success, and not just some atavistic expression of ethnocentrism and racism.

The Fall, 2011, "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations, with their anti-capitalist agenda, have featured their share of diatribes against Jews and Zionists for the evils of banking and finance. Few ethnic groups, whether successful or unsuccessful, get attacked, robbed, or murdered without some element of envy or perceived economic threat involved. Such ethnic hatreds will be certain to continue as long as economically successful minorities are regarded as prospering because of dishonesty or exploitation, or even unsuccessful groups are regarded as illegitimately absorbing wealth that somehow collectively belongs to some other group.

The fault, indeed, is again Hegelian: the reification of a universal, a group, into the legitimate possessor of rights and liberties. Since tens of millions of people have been murdered in the Twentieth Century on this principle, whether applied in racial or class terms, the historical guilt of Kant, Fichte, Fries, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Frege, and Heidegger can only truly be assessed in terms of whether or how they contributed to the formulation or application of that principle. In that light, the final word must be that it was the metaphysical and moral individualism of Kant and Fries, however imperfectly they understood its proper, liberal application, that statists and collectivists like Hegel, and his spiritual descendants, with Marx or even the so-called "Pragmatists," such as John Dewey and Richard Rorty, in American philosophy, found the most objectionable.

The anti-Semitism of Right and Left comes down to the same hatred:  the hatred of capitalism and liberty -- although certainly with good doses of religious bigotry and ethnic xenophobia thrown in. To the political Right, capitalism represents, like the Jews themselves, a threat to the customs and hierarchy of traditional Christian (or Moslem, etc.) society. Commercial culture frees individuals from ancient restraints, producing "vulgar" popular enjoyments and non-conforming individual behavior. To the political Left, capitalism represents a threat to the ideological social engineering, Utopianism, and Mandarinism that really is the content of a leftist political program. A commercial culture that frees individuals does not ensure that they will conform to ideologically sound ("politically correct"), edifying activities. Rightist and Leftist politics thus cross paths as they return to the ancient paradigm of the Law Giver, like Solon of Athens or, more to the point, Lycurgus of Sparta, which was to engineer the moral rectitude and worthy occupations and preoccupations of the subjects of the state.

Since a political Mandarinism is rather like the status of learned scholars in the Mediaeval Jewish (or Moslem, for that matter) tradition, many Jews have curiously been attracted to political programs whose promotion of state power and whose attacks on private property and individual liberty are inevitably turned upon the Jews themselves, whose own economic success and status are always due to the limitation of state power and the protection of private property and individual liberty. Thus, for the Right, Jews represent the threat of radical innovation, while for the Left they represent the threat of opposition to radical innovation, as derived from individualism and privacy.

For Jews themselves, Jewish tradition, itself formulated long before the existence of capitalism or liberal democracy, sadly often motivates attacks upon the very principles of limited government and individual liberty and property that protect Jews from the envy, ill will, and Utopian manipulations of others. Thus, American Jews are said to earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans. This is neither good for the Jews nor, as it happens, morally right. For instance, after I had a letter published in the Los Angeles Times criticizing the "health care" proposals of the Clinton Administration, I received a telephone call from a doctor who quoted the Bible and Jewish Tradition to me about how we had to take care of everyone. That socialism and absolutist government were not going to be effective or appropriate ways to take care of everyone did not seem persuasive to him. Nor had he remembered that Jewish charity could never be coerced in the Mediaeval circumstances of the Jewish community -- escape was always available by conversion to the surrounding Christian or Muslim societies.

How Fries would have taken to later events is a question that cannot be answered. Whether he would have gone ahead with Bismarckian nationalism (Schwarzweißrot) and its terrible apocalyptic future or moved toward a more properly liberal stand (Schwarzrotgold), we can never know. What we can see instead is Leonard Nelson's career, which was forthrightly internationalist and socialist. Unfortunately, Nelson thereby errs in the opposite direction, with a leftist rather than a rightist impatience with liberal principles and the individualistic free market. That Nelson was not tempted by anti-Semitic rhetoric is a tribute to his good sense, but there would have been nothing particularly inconsistent or surprising if his Leftist sympathies had happened to propel him in that direction, especially when he saw religious life absurdly as somehow fulfilled in politics. In the Kant-Friesian tradition, therefore, we must wait for a mature and appropriate political and economic philosophy until Popper and F.A. Hayek, with the latter laying to rest the calumnies against commercial culture and finance.

The Sources and Influence of the Kant-Friesian School

The Principles of Friesian Philosophy

The Curse of the Friesian School

Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013)

C. Edgar Goyette, Jr. (1917-1972)

Note on Fries in The Origin of Value in a Transcendent Function

Kay Herrmann, Mathematische Naturphilosophie in der Grundlagendiskussion, Jakob Friedrich Fries und die Wissenschaften

Dr. Kay Herrmann, in English

Dr. Kay Herrmann, in German

History of Philosophy


Philosophy of Religion

Fries on Home Page

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Note 1;
Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013)

Metaquestions about a field, say about science or mathematics or the law, are not normally questions that are contained in the field itself; they are not, respectively, scientific or mathematical or legal. Rather they are categorized as philosophical questions, residing, respectively, in the philosophy of science, of mathematics, of law.

Rebecca Goldstein, Incompleteness, The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, Atlas Books, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005, p.27-28, color added

Even among those who appear to be well aware of the language/meta-language distinction, considerable confusion can still be found. In Justice for Hedgehogs [Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2011], legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin does not want to accept a language/meta-language distinction when it comes to ethics and the metaphysical or epistemological questions of meta-ethics. He does not even want to call himself a moral "Realist," although he is, because of its status as an ontological doctrine. And the idea that metaphysics should describe the objects denoted by moral terms or propositions he disparages and dismisses by calling such objects "morons," with a cute word play on the root of "moral" (Latin mores, moralis, moralitas), the "-on" ending for subatomic particles ("electron," "hadron," etc.), and the familiar meaning of "moron" (Greek, μορός, "fool") There is some irony in this, since Dworkin uses his argument to avoid addressing the metaphysical questions that are also typically dismissed by moral skeptics he otherwise opposes. Such metaphysics or epistemology as he wishes to allow he wants to include in the object language of ethics. Yet this in itself demonstrates his lack of understanding for the object language/meta-language distinction.

Dworkin says, "We cannot escape from morality's independence, no matter how strenuously we struggle" [p.39]. The independence of value is a commendable thesis, but we may see a clue to Dworkin's confusion in the fact that he never speaks of the axiomatic independence of morality and of value. When we add such a term, this means that we are aware of the propositions of morality or of value as a logical, deductive system (or systems), which could be organized, as Aristotle anticipated, into axioms and theorems. Once we understand the nature of such a system, then we can understand how its contents refer, i.e. have objects they describe in reality, and how we can refer to the system in other propositions that belong to a meta-language. Thus, Chapter 1 of Dworkin's book begins with a meta-statement, "This book defends a large and old philosophical thesis:  the unity of value" [p.1]. If we render the thesis as "Value is a unity," or "Value is one," then, with a predicate that is a concept from mathematics, a number, this is not a proposition of morality or ethics or any other part of the universe of value. It is a proposition of meta-ethics or value theory, which applies a number to the system or the nature of value -- a thesis in opposition to the value pluralism of Isaiah Berlin.

To avoid the meta-questions that refer, on the one hand, to the object language of morality or ethics (or aesthetics) itself, or to the objects denoted by those object languages, Dworkin must become some kind of skeptic about reference itself. Thus, he is comforted that the classic distinction between mathematics as an axiomatic system and meta-mathematics, established by David Hilbert, pounced upon, as Friesian, by Leonard Nelson, and fundamental to the Incompleteness Proofs of Kurt Gödel, is obscured by some mathematicians [cf. p.41-42]. But this is not a matter that is just, as Dworkin says, "semantic" [p.42]. It is a hard distinction of logic, used by the likes of Alfred Tarski to define truth -- e.g. "p" is true if and only if p, where the first "p" is "mentioned," and so in quotes, while second is "used," i.e. it refers (to its objects). Truth is predicated of a proposition, which itself is the object of the affirmation. If Dworkin wants to be a reference skeptic, he must ally with Wittgenstein, for whom "language games" seem to be self-referential and autistic. But Dworkin doesn't like the "language game" discourse and would not like the relativistic autism implied by Wittgenstein's philosophy.

By collapsing the meta-language of value into the object language of value and confusing what is content and what is reference, Dworkin can also collapse, and thereby obscure and conceal, whatever it is that is denoted by the propositlons of morality, ethics, aesthetics, etc. We may say, "The Golden Gate Bridge is red," and "The Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful." In metaphysics, it is then natural to ask what "red" and "beautiful" are in reality and how they come to be equally predicated of the bridge. Dworkin doesn't want to address such questions, and trivalizes them with (repeated) talk about "morons," as though this parody were the only existing Realistic ontology of value. The threat he feels from the proper metaphysical question may be due to another confusion. He says, "Philosophy can neither impeach nor validate any value judgment while standing wholly outside that judgment's domain" [p.37]. In an important sense, this is true. The content of any proposition of morality, etc. depends on its place as a theorem in the logical system of morality. Dworkin seems to think that meta-ethics or value theory somehow determines the content of such a value system. His acceptance of this misunderstanding is then reflecting in his thesis that any meta-ethical propositions must be part of the object language systems of value -- which, again, denies that there is a difference between content and reference, use and mention, or even subject and object. But Dworkin is confused in the first instance that a foundational metaphysical inquiry (as opposed to a foundation inquiry that is the axiomatics of the system itself) is supposed to determine the content of morality or anything else, as though the language of metaphysics is itself axiomatically foundational of the object languages, deducing their axioms from itself (as we might see it in Hegel).

Dworkin has thus not understood, even as he does not mention, Aristotle's theory of the first principles of demonstration. The absence of terms like "axiom," "theorem," or "first principle" from his book demonstrates his blindness to this whole dimension of the issue and allows him to proceed with his confusions about object language and meta-language. His particular opportunity to do better comes when he says:

What makes a moral judgment true? When are we justified in thinking a moral judgment true? My answer to the first is that moral judgments are made true, when they are true, by an adequate moral argument for their truth. Of course that invites the further question: What makes a moral argument adequate? The answer must be: a further moral argument for its adequacy. And so forth, [p.37]

Dworkin has thus, perhaps (re-)discovered the Regress of Reasons, but apparently without acknowledgement or awareness that Aristotle had already identified this problem and examined its consequences much, much earlier. Nor do we get any indication that Dworkin is aware that Fries and Karl Popper had reexamined the issue. It is not enough to make an argument, or even a formal proof. We must ask about its foundations, its axioms, which, unfortunately for Dworkin, calls for a critical epistemological meta-theory. Dworkin obviously doesn't want to do this and is willing to cook up some ill-informed sophistry to avoid it.

The Skeptics who dismiss value as non-existent ("error skeptics" for Dworkin; I would say "nihilists"), or who transfer its ground to some non-moral or non-value facts about the world ("status skeptics" to Dworkin; I would say "reductionists"), do use a metaphysical critique to denature or delegitimize the modality of value propositions. In this sense, such Skeptics wish to affect the content of ethics and to undermine its force. In this cause, the Skeptics often use their misunderstanding of Hume, such as we see in Antony Flew, to deny the force or existence of morality. Dworkin demonstrates a better understanding of Hume by affirming that this was not the meaning of Hume's critique [p.17]. That morality is not discovered or deduced from natural objects does not mean that it does not exist. But Dworkin then misses why Hume calls himself a Skeptic.

My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philosopher, who has some share of curiosity, I will not say scepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this inference. [An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Shelby-Bigge edition, Oxford, 1902, 1972, p.38]

Dworkin apparently does not want to allow the meaning of the "curiosity" that Hume, "as a philosopher," has about "the foundation of this inference," i.e. from empirical contingency to necessity, or in the case of morality from fact to value. Hume's own explanations of causality and morality from custom and habit, although inadequate, don't make any sense otherwise. Dworkin appears to say, in effect, that Hume's practice does refute his doubts. But a simple distinction between language and meta-language, or in Kant's terms between quid facti and quid juris, separates the issues. Dworkin misses the point, and ends up in effect accusing Hume of not understanding his own argument. As an interpretation of Hume, this may not be much better than Antony Flew.

Since the skeptics do create an effect on morality itself, either to eliminate it or denature its imperatives, we must consider Dworkin's claim that this necessarily makes the skeptical arguments part of morality, which implies that morality exists and that it is what it is after all. But if true, Dworkin's argument would prove too much, for it not only obscures and confuses the carefully assembled logical structures of mathematics and Set Theory -- about which Dworkin seems complacent or baselessly gratified -- but its consequences extend to the metaphysics of mathematics and of other philosophical issues that share a key characteristic of value and mathematics, namely the abstract nature of its objects. Most significantly, this includes the traditional Problem of Universals. The referents of value, mathematics, and universals are all abstract objects and so fit uncomfortably (or unconformably) into a phenomenal world that apparently consists of individual, transient, empirical objects. If we apply Dworkin's arguments to mathematics and universals, we achieve the remarkable result that skepticism about mathematical objects and universals is self-refuting but that, when it comes right down to it, we don't need to say how abstract mathematical objects or universals actually exist in reality anyway. This relieves us of a great metaphysical burden, but mathematical skeptics and Nominalists are probably going to feel cheated, as they should. They are the victims of Dworkin's bit of sophistry. If Dworkin wants to delegitimize his own value realism, this takes with it both Aristotelian Realism and Ockhamite Nominalism; for the very use of universals by Nominalists -- and they do use them -- refutes the whole metaphysical inquiry into their meaning and status.

Dworkin says, "But there is nothing else for moral skepticism to be but moral" [p.42]. No, if value and moral imperatives are denatured, because they are dismissed as fraudulent or reduced to indicatives (e.g. "Society acts this way"), then the skeptic becames an immoralist, like Nietzsche -- or at least, as a positivist, someone who mistakes actuality for obligation. Moral skepticism can simply be immoral, i.e. eliminate the moral universe of discourse, as Nietzsche wished to do. Whether the skeptics can then act without invoking moral principles, providing ammunition for a Socratic elenchus, is another question; for Dworkin's claim is not that skeptics are hypocrites whose actions do not match their words, but that any discussion of morality, even to pull the cognitive and ontological rug out from under it, vindicates morality. That would have been a nice trick, if Dworkin could get away with it; but he cannot.

In the collapse of language and meta-language, we must consider whether Dworkin's argument endangers our ordinary understanding of hallucinations. After all, if Dworkin's moral nihilist cannot meaningfully deny the existence of the objects of morality, which are somehow collapsed, self-referentially or autistically, into the content of morality itself, how can we meaningfully deny the existence of the objects of hallucinations, which would be subject to the same collapse? How can we not allow the existence of the objects of hallucinations when Dworkin forbids us the very meaningfulness of the denial of the existence of the objects of value? In each case, there is a representation that refers to objects. For hallucinations, the very definition of the phenomenon is that their objects do not exist. The moral nihilist merely affirms, after a fashion, that morality is a hallucination -- something with a content, a representation, that nevertheless is of something non-existent. If Dworkin admits that the reference of hallucinations does not exist, how could he then turn around and forbid the moral nihilist from saying the same thing about morality? He cannot; for if he allows the function of content and reference in one case, he cannot discard it in another, just because it inconveniences his preferences.

The sophistry in Dworkin does not end with his mangling of the relation of reference. His dispute with Isaiah Berlin has some good points -- the rejection of equally legimate and rational but incommensurable values (addressed elsewhere) -- but then some grave shortcomings. It is not clear how far Dworkin appreciates aesthetic variety. He also does not have a polynomic theory and so wishes to "resolve" traditional moral dilemmas. Thus, Dworkin asserts that high taxation does not violate rights to private property because, if high taxation is justified, the owner did not have the right to all his property in the first place. This is a skewed and dangerous view of the matter and obviously seeks to avoid a sense that political provisions of law may involve trade-offs, compromises, and a benefits vs. loss analysis. The government that tells property owners that the government has a right to a certain percentage, perhaps a large percentage, of their property, perhaps in order to carry out a "redistribution" of wealth, probably does not have a very good understanding of the principle of the Declaration of Independence that "governments are instituted among men to secure these rights" -- i.e. that the government only has the power to take property in order to efficiently and minimally protect the remaining property. Dworkin seems to have a different view of the matter, and we begin to get the drift of his ideological commitments:

A laissez-faire political economy leaves unchanged the consequences of a free market in which people buy and sell their product and labor as they wish and can. That does not show equal concern for everyone. Anyone impoverished through that system is entitled to ask: "There are other, more regulatory and redistributive, sets of law that would put me in a better position. How can government claim that this system shows equal concern for me?" [pp.2-3]

This has substituted Dworkin's own principle of "equal concern" for the traditional principle of the protection of natural rights, and it appears to rely on Marxist canards about capitalism. First of all, how does laissez-faire capitalism not demonstrate "equal concern" for everyone, unless Dworkin has shifted from a "nomocratic," equal-before-the-law conception of government to a "teleocratic" conception that it is the job of government to equalize outcomes and to engineer a certain "redistribution" of wealth? Dwokin clearly believes that laissez-faire capitalism has "improverished" the workers (as Marx says), who then yearn for Lenin or Stalin, or perhaps just Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama, to make their lives better. But it is far late in the day for American academics to believe such nonsense, although ignorance in the matter is widespread. Paul Kennedy reminds us, "...average real wages in Britain rose between 15 and 25 percent in the years 1815-1850, and by an impressive 80 percent in the next half-century" [The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Vintage Books, 1987, 1989, p.146-147]. Laissez-faire capitalism did not impoverish (or "pauperize") the workers -- quite the opposite. Even John Maynard Keynes said:

Communism is not a reaction against the failure of the nineteenth century to organize optimal economic output. It is a reaction against its comparative success. It is a protest against the emptiness of economic welfare, an appeal to the ascetic in us all... The idealistic youth play with Communism because it is the only spiritual appeal which feels to them contemporary. [1934]

Ronald Dworkin is the sort of philosopher who has not kept up with this but is reduced to repeating the Marxist clichés that he probably heard in the faculty lounge every day.

But the irony of Dworkin's passage is that those who are hurt by capitalism, namely competing businesses who fall into bankruptcy or are bought out, do make just this sort of protest to government, which has responded for some time now with protectionist and anti-competitive measures that have produced modern corporate welfare, "crony capitalism," and, in short, the modern revival of Mercantilism. Dworkin may think that he is refering to the workers being impoverished, but the actual reponse is in terms of the corporate lobbyists who crowd Washington bars and pitch their own sob stories or fairy tales to Congressmen. The Marxist principle that capitalism drives up unemployment has now been refuted for decades, if not (at this point) centuries, by the low unemployment of laissez-faire bastions like Hong Kong and Singapore, and the high unemployment of socialist experiments like France, California, Greece, and pre-reform Sweden. I suspect that Dworkin is the kind of political philosopher who is content to see workers impoverished by minimum wage laws, just because those who have jobs get paid more. This is the problem of "the seen and the unseen" in economics, and it is rare for academic or legal philosophers to have achieved such an advanced level of information and understanding [cf. Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt, 1946; or Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas, "What One Sees and what One Does Not See," by Frédéric Bastiat, 1850].

Thus, once Dworkin dispenses with the metaphysics and epistemology that are otherwise called for by his inquiry, he can get down to the characteristic follies of academic "liberalism" in the modern university. And if he misses the point of the value pluralism of Isaiah Berlin, at least he is hard on the skeptics and nihilists. This is not enough to redeem the muddle of his analysis of meta-ethics or the conventional shibboleths of "liberal" poltics.

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Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Note 2;
Jews as Palestinians

Kant thinking of Jews as "Palestinians," Palästiner, however paradoxical it now sounds, was not unique. We find the same sort of thing in no less than the essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), who expressed, to more than one person, opposition and hostility that Lionel Rothschild be admitted to the British Parliament. Carlyle told fellow historian James A. Froude (1818-1894) about a conversation with Rothschild:

I observed too that I could not conceive why he and his friends, who were supposed to be looking out for the coming of Shiloh, should be seeking seats in a Gentile legislature. [The House of Rothschild, Volume II, The World's Banker, 1849-1999, Niall Ferguson, 1998, Penguin, 1999, 2000, p.27]

In a letter to Monckton Milnes, a Member of Parliament, Carlyle wrote:

A Jew is bad, but what is a Sham-Jew, a Quack-Jew? And how can a real Jew, by possibility, try to be a Senator, or even a Citizen of any country, except his own wretched Palestine, whither all his thoughts and step and efforts tend? [ibid., boldface added]

This is the old question of the "dual loyalty" of the Jews, who now have the actual State of Israel calling to them, which somehow does not get raised in trendy opinion for demonstrators waving Mexican flags in the United States, or for Muslims whose loyalty may first be to the , Ummah, the "Nation," of Islâm (such suspicions would be "Islamophobia"). Lionel Rothschild was elected to Parliament in 1847, but, unable to take an oath as a Christian, was not seated until 1858. The largely conservative opposition was battled by no less than the leader of the Conservative Party, Benjamin Disraeli, himself a converted Jew -- but still called by Bismark, der alte Jude.

Disraeli himself sometimes voiced views that today might be taken as anti-Semitic. When Leopold Rothschild, son of Lionel, was born in 1845, Disraeli wrote to the parents, expressing his hope that, "he will prove worthy of his pure and sacred race, and of his beautiful brothers and sisters" [ibid., p.29]. Seeing the Jews as a "pure... race" will remind us of Nietzsche saying similar things ("...the Jews are beyond doubt the strongest, toughest and purest race now living in Europe"), and at a time not much removed from Disraeli, who, of course, had nothing but love for this "race," of which he was, "racially," a member -- while Nietzsche attrributes to the Jews the impotent revenge of the "slave revolt in morals." The peril of thinking of the Jews in racial terms is now evident; and if Nietzsche, or Disraeli, simply reflected the spirit of the age, Nietzsche, at least, is not free of the guilt that his influence had on those who later thought to protect themselves from this "race" by genocide.

As we will see, Fries rebuked those who had the idea of the Jews as a race, before this sort of thing would really be an issue (since Fries died in 1843). But when it was, we find Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the father of Zionism, avoiding the language used by Disraeli:

Herzl... differs with him [i.e. Israel Zangwill] over whether the Jews are, as Zangwill sees it, a race or, as Herzl insists, "a historical unit." [Norman Lebrecht, Genius & Anxiety, How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947, Scribner, 2019, p.137]

But anti-Semites were not the only people to refer to Jews as "Palestinians." Gustavus Poznanski (1804-1879) was cantor and later rabbi of the Congregation Beth Elohim, Charleston, South Carolina. Poznanski supported Jewish loyalty to America, even to the exclusion of aspirations to return to the Promised Land. Thus, in 1841, he said, "This synagogue is our temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine, and as our fathers defended with their lives that temple, that city and that land, so will their sons defend this temple, this city and this land... America is our Zion and Washington our Jerusalem." This was a striking defense of Jewish assimilation to the social and political norms of America, along with the continuation of Jewish religion and identity. Constitutional freedom of religion in the United State made that possible; and of course the inspiration of Zionism was not the Jewish experience in America, but that in Russia, France, and Germany.

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Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Note 3;
Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Gottlob Frege is one of the most important figures in the history of logic, and I had an entire seminar on him with Irving Copi at the University of Hawaii in 1973. But Frege's anti-Semitism only just came to my attention in 1998, in Tom Rockmore's On Heidegger's Nazism and Philosophy [U. California Press, 1997]. Rockmore refers to "Frege's well-known, vicious anti-Semitism" [p. 40]; but it must not be all that well known, since neither Copi nor any other philosopher or logician I've ever met bothered to mention it. It is anti-Semitism of a particularly disturbing sort since Frege, although he died in 1925 and so had no clue about the later triumph of the Nazis, was already for them and for Hitler at the time and in 1924 was endorsing racial laws to require Jews to wear something to distinguish them as Jews [p. 311-312] -- like the yellow star later used by Hitler -- a device not uncommon in the Middle Ages, in Christendom and Islâm, that Fries had himself advocated.

This is a good case for the discussion about Fries, since it would be hard to blame logic for Frege's anti-Semitism (though I'm willing to listen to arguments). At the same time, this also illustrates the fact that logic alone almost always fails to produce sensible views about anything else in logicians themselves. When I was a student at UCLA in 1968-1970, the logician Donald Kalish (1919-2000) was the chairman of the Philosophy Department. A characteristic pronouncement of his was that "Philosophers are either logicians or lotus-eaters." Nevertheless Kalish was a political (e.g. a "peace") acitivist; and when he presided over faculty meetings that were large enough to require microphones, he reportedly instructed the ushers, when they would hold the mic for dissident faculty members, that they should hold it too far away or shove it in their faces. Thus, not only was Kalish a fool in philosophy, we was a self-righteous leftist with a vicious streak.

Frege is also a good case for a phenomenon that occurs in my correspondence:  people who write to me, and are critical of something about Friesian philosophy, and who then threaten to discredit all of it by exposing Fries's anti-Semitism -- expose it with the information that they have learned from the webpages that I have myself posted! There is something odd about that. They are threatening to expose something that I have already exposed? Come again?

But we may then engage in the thought experiment about what it would mean to expose Frege. Clearly, someone like Professor Copi, if he even knew of Frege's anti-Semitism himself, must have felt awkward about teaching a seminar and relying in his discipline on a serious, of not notorious, anti-Semite. Yet, once he may have determined that Frege's political ideas were irrelevant to his logical studies, then he really need not have worried about the matter again.

The case of Fries is rather different, since his philosophy, like Kant's, features a moral teaching, which thus might be discredited by his political views, if the latter can be traced to the former. This is precisely the purport of Hegel's criticism that the moral philosophy of both Kant and Fries is subjective and "irrational." Why the moral philosophy of both Nietzsche and Heidegger should then be given a pass by their enthusiasts, when both are profoundly and openly irrationalistic, with a valorization of violence and even injustice, and be the subject of desperate apologetics, is a little mysterious. The solution, of course, is that there is little about Hegel's dialectic that is genuinely rational, while its moral positivism is fully conformable to Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the sort of Statists and totalitarians who ironically and, in the case of Nietzsche, incongruously find comfort in all three.

A curious treatment of Frege is to be found in Hitler's Philosophers, by Yvonne Sherratt [Yale, 2013]. Discussing Frege briefly but in some detail, Sherratt says, "with this background of strong anti-Semitism and nationalist zeal Frege would go on to become the father of Western analytic philosophy. The origins of this brand of philosophy were therefore also tainted by associations with Hitler" [p.60]. Later, Sherratt says, "Given that analytic philosophy is dominant throughout Western universities, it is worrying that the founder of this tradition, Frege, held such morally repulsive views -- and moreover that for the majority of students this issue will never even be raised" [p.262].

It is unclear from these statements why Frege's influence should be "worrying." Are students going to become anti-Semites because they discover that a great logician was an anti-Semite and Nazi sympathizer? But then, if the "issue will never even be raised," and if the students, like me, studied Frege in some detail without ever hearing about his political views, how can the students even be aware of such views to be influenced by them? This doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Indeed, Sherratt seems to be employing nothing more than guilt-by-association, in the absence of any argument that Frege's political ideas logically follow from this ideas in logic, epistemology, or metaphysics. I don't get a sense that Sherratt is aware of the difference, in a book that, although merciless about Heidegger, nevertheless does not examine the principles of his philosophy that were conformable and agreeable to his political commitments.

What actually is "worrying" is that Sherratt does not seem to be aware that analytic philosophy, although in my view indeed of little enduring value (which I take to be the implication of Sherratt's remarks), is actually no longer "dominant throughout Western universities." Instead, the Frankfurt School Marxism apparently supported by Sherratt herself, by way of "critical studies" in deconstruction and "Post-Modernism," has become much more influential, far beyond philosophy departments. This has come to motivate the intolerance, political indoctrination, and even violence that now characterize the regime of Western education. When activists emulate the Hitler Youth by shouting down invited speakers or even throwing things and storming the stage at politically "incorrect" events, their inspiration is not the logical theory of Gottlob Frege, but the Frankfurt Marxism of people like Herbert Marcuse. Sherratt provides nothing about any of these philosophers that would enable us to make informed judgments about the moral or political principles of their thought. She therefore is missing the essential element in the real evaluation of people like Frege, Heidegger, Fries, or Marcuse -- the link between theory and practice (or "Praxis" as the Marxists like to say).

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Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Note 4

Biography, Publications, and Book Prospectus of Dr. Kay Herrmann,
with Jakob Fries Page.

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