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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

236-7:

Naphta:

Is your Manchester liberalism unaware of the existence of a school of economic thought which means the triumph of man over economics, and whose principles and aims precisely coincide with those of the kingdom of God? The Fathers of the Church called mine and thine pernicious words, and private property usurpation and robbery. They repudiated the idea of personal possessions, because, according to divine and natural law, the earth is common to all men, and brings forth her fruits for the common good. They taught that avarice, a consequence of the Fall, represents the rights of property and is the source of private ownership. They were humane enough, anti-commercial enough, to feel that all commercial activity was a danger to the soul of man and its salvation. They hated money and finance, and called the empire of capital fuel for the fires of hell. The fundamental economic principle that price is regulated by the operation of the law of supply and demand, they have always despised from the bottom of their hearts; and condemned taking advantage of chance as a cynical exploitation of a neighbour’s need. Even more nefarious, in their eyes, was the exploitation of time; the montrousness of receiving a premium for the passage of time—interest, in other words—and misusing to one’s own advantage and another’s disadvantage a universal and God-given dispensation…..

“Indeed, these humane spirits were revolted by the idea of the automatic increase of money; they regarded as usury every kind of interest-taking and speculation, and declared that every rich man was either a thief or the heir of a thief. They went further. Like Thomas Aquinas, they considered trade, pure and simple, buying and selling for profit, without altering or improving the product, a contemptible occupation. They were not inclined to place a very high value on labour in and for itself, as being an ethical, not a religious concern, and performed not in the service of God, but as a part of the business of living. This being the case, they demanded that the measure of profit or of public esteem should be in proportion to the actual labour expended, and accordingly it was not the tradesman or the industrialist, but the labourer and the tiller of the soil, who were honourable in their eyes. For they were in favour of making production dependent upon necessity, and held mass production in abhorrence. Now, then: after centuries of disfavour these principles and standards are being resurrected by the modern movement of communism. The similarity is complete, even to the claim for world-domination made by international labour as against international industry and finance; the world-proletariat, which is today asserting the ideals of the Civitas Dei in opposition to the discredited and decadent standards of the capitalistic bourgeoisie. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the politico-economic means of salvation demanded by our age, does not mean domination for its own sake and in perpetuity; but rather in the sense of a temporary abrogation, in the Sign of the Cross, of the contradiction between spirit and force; in the sense of overcoming the world by mastering it; in a transcendental, a transitional sense, in the sense of the Kingdom. The proletariat has taken up the task of Gregory the Great, his religious zeal burns within it, and as little as he may it withhold its hand from the shedding of blood. Its task is to strike terror into the world for the healing of the world, that man may finally achieve salvation and deliverance, and win back at length to freedom from law and from distinction of classes, to his original status as child of God.”

Settembrini:

Let us examine all the consequences flowing from it. Along with industry, your Christian communism would reject machinery, technique, material progress. Along with what you call trade—money and finance, which in antiquity ranked higher than agriculture and manual labour—you reject freedom. For it is clear, so clear as to be evident to the meanest intelligence, that all social relations, public and private, would be attached to the soil, as in the Middle Ages; even—I feel some reluctance to say it—even the person of the individual. If only the soil can maintain life, then only the possession of it can confer freedom. Manual labourers and peasants, however honourable their position, if they possess no real property, can only be the property of those who do. As a matter of fact, until well on in the Middle Ages the great mass of the population, even the town-dwellers, were serfs. In the course of our discussion you have let fall various allusions to the dignity of the human being. Yet you are defending the morality of an economic system which deprives the individual of liberty and self-respect.”

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On the Improvement of the Understanding – Baruch Spinoza

(31:1) But as men at first made use of the instruments supplied by nature to accomplish very easy pieces of workmanship, laboriously and imperfectly, and then, when these were finished, wrought other things more difficult with less labour and greater perfection; and so gradually mounted from the simplest operations to the making of tools, and from the making of tools to the making of more complex tools, and fresh feats of workmanship, till they arrived at making complicated mechanisms which they now possess. (31:2) So, in like manner, the intellect, by its native strength, makes for itself intellectual instruments, whereby it acquires strength for performing other intellectual operations, and from these operations again fresh instruments, or the power of pushing its investigations further, and thus gradually proceeds till it reaches the summit of wisdom.

**

(40:1) Again, the more things the mind knows, the better does it understand its own strength and the order of nature; by increased self-knowledge, it can direct itself more easily, and lay down rules for its own guidance; and by increased knowledge of nature, it can more easily avoid what is useless.

 

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

Naptha (234):

“Whatever profits man, that is the truth. In him all nature is comprehended, in all nature only he is created, and all nature only for him. He is the measure of all things, and his welfare is the sole and single criterion of truth. Any theoretic science which is without practical application to man’s salvation is as such without significance, we are commanded to reject it. Throughout the Christian centuries it was accepted fact that the natural sciences afforded man no edification. Lactantius, who was chosen by Constantine the Great as tutor to his son, put the position very clearly when he asked in so many words what heavenly bliss he could attain by knowing the sources of the Nile, or the twaddle of the physicists anent the heavenly bodies. Answer him if you can! Why have we given the Platonic philosophy the preference over every other, if not because it has to do with knowledge of God, and not knowledge of nature? Let me assure you that mankind is about to find its way back to this point of view. Mankind will soon perceive that it is not the task of true science to run after godless understanding; but to reject utterly all that is harmful, yes, even all that ideally speaking is without significance, in favour of instinct, measure, choice. It is childish to accuse the Church of having defended darkness rather than light. She did well, and thrice well, to chastise as unlawful all unconditioned striving after the ‘pure’ knowledge of things—such striving, that is, as is without reference to the spiritual, without bearing on man’s salvation; for it is this unconditioned, this a-philosophical natural science that always has led and ever will lead men into darkness.”

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

p. 224

“You know quite well, as do these young men here, that we are dealing with a progress in human affairs conceived of as endless.”

“But all motion is in circles,” said Hans Castorp. “In space and time, as we learn from the law of periodicity and the conservation of mass. My cousin and I were talking about it lately. How then can progress be conceived of, in closed motion without constant direction? When I lie in the evening and look at the zodiac—that is, the half of it that is visible to us—and think about the wise men of antiquity—” “You ought not to brood and dream, Engineer,” Settembrini interrupted him. “You must resolve to trust to the instincts of your youth and your blood, urging you in the direction of action. And also your training in natural science is bound to link you to progressive ideas. You see, through the space of countless ages, life developing from infusorium up to man: how can you doubt, then, that man has yet before him endless possibilities of development? And in the sphere of the higher mathematics, if you would rest your case thereon, then follow your cycle from perfection to perfection, and, from the teaching of our eighteenth century, learn that man was originally good, happy, and without sin, that social errors have corrupted and perverted him, and that he can and will once more become good, happy, and sinless, by dint of labour upon his social structure—”

“Herr Settembrini has omitted to add,” broke in Naphta, “that the Rousseauian idyll is a sophisticated transmogrification of the Church’s doctrine of man’s original free and sinless state, his primal nearness and filial relation to God; to which state he must finally return. But the re-establishment of the City of God, after the dissolution of all earthly forms, lies at the meeting-place of the earthly and the heavenly, the material and the spiritual; redemption is transcendental—and as for your capitalistic worldrepublic, my dear Doctor, it is odd in this connexion to hear you talking about instinct. The instinctive is entirely on the side of the national. God Himself has implanted in men’s breasts the instinct which bids them separate into states. War—”

“War,” echoed Settembrini, “war, my dear sir, has been forced before now to serve the cause of progress; as you will grant if you will recall certain events in the history of your favourite epoch—I mean the period of the Crusades. These wars for civilization stimulated economic and commercial relations between peoples, and united Western humanity in the name of an idea.”

“And how tolerant you always are towards an idea! I would the more courteously remind you that the effect of the Crusades and the economic relations they stimulated was anything but favourable to internationalism. On the contrary, they taught the peoples to become conscious of themselves, and thus furthered the development of the national idea.”

“Right; that is to say, right in so far as it was a question of the relation between the peoples and the priesthood; for it was indeed at that time that the mounting consciousness of national honour began to harden itself against hieratical presumption—”

“Though what you call hieratical presumption is nothing else than the conception of human unity in the name of the Spirit!”

 

 

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

CHAPTER VI

Changes

WHAT is time? A mystery, a figment—and all-powerful. It conditions the exterior world, it is motion married to and mingled with the existence of bodies in space, and with the motion of these. Would there then be no time if there were no motion? No motion if no time? We fondly ask. Is time a function of Space? Or space of time? Or are they identical? Echo answers. Time is functional, it can be referred to as action; we say a thing’s “brought about” by time. What sort of thing? Change! Now is not then, here not there, for between them lies motion. But the motion by which one measures time is circular, is in a closed circle; and might almost equally well be described as rest, as cessation of movement—for the there repeats itself constantly in the here, the past in the present. Furthermore, as our utmost effort cannot conceive a final limit either to time or in space, we have settled to think of them as eternal and infinite—apparently in the hope that if this is not very successful, at least it will be more so than the other. But is not this affirmation of the eternal and the infinite the logical-mathematical destruction of every and any limit in time or space, and the reduction of them, more or less, to zero? Is it possible, in eternity, to conceive of a sequence of events, or in the infinite of a succession of space-occupying bodies? Conceptions of distance, movement, change, even of the existence of finite bodies in the universe—how do these fare? Are they consistent with the hypothesis of eternity and infinity we have been driven to adopt? Again we ask, and again echo answers. Hans Castorp revolved these queries and their like in his brain.

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Upon Death

The thing that is me,

You’ll no longer see,

For the thing that is me,

Will no longer be.

 

The thing that I am,

Will be the thing that I was.

And the thing that you knew,

Will be hidden from view.

 

 

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A (by no means original) thought

Rousseau claims that humans beings are good by nature but are corrupted by society. Machiavelli on the other hand believes we are naturally evil unless we’re made to be good. Morality is a codification of human prejudice says France. Paine believes government is a necessary evil. These ideas of morality and the need to be governed and the need for rules presents a two sided coin for us to choose from, in essence, a false dichotomy. The idea is that there is good and there is evil. But what exactly is ‘goodness’? We have an idea of what it means to act justly. But is there inherent goodness? Is there good without action? Is there evil without action?

These concepts of good and evil arise out of our attitude towards the result or outcome of action, i.e., the impact of certain actions upon us or others. Goodness exists subjectively but what does it mean to be objectively good? If I wish to be good, how do I do so without action? I could hope for ‘good’ things to happen to others but hoping is an action, it is created by the ideas that we have and sometimes choose to physically act upon. Without human beings, there would be no such things as good and evil. Goodness therefore is dependent on humans and as such is dependent on our needs at the moment. Morality thus is subjective/relative. It also depends on societal needs, which change over time and space (geographic location).

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