Soldiers, arguments and revolution


An astute reader finds the context of Lichtenberg’s quote in a 2008 book by Kirk Wetters.

When one considers that the human being consists of body and soul, and that the latter possesses thousands of ways of creeping into the former and hiding itself there, whereas the former tries in vain to creep into the latter, for this reason, in my view, the way in which Charles V sought to enforce the interim is always the best way of propagating opinions. With a handful of soldiers it is possible to propagate much more truth in a country than with a handful of books, and the red religion has always appeared to be to reason in such psychological matters with a clarity that no others have been able achieve … And since man is half ape and half angel, and the ape always goes wherever the angel wants to go and vice versa, therefore it makes no difference which of the two sides receives the impact. Satellite and planet. A handful soldiers is always better than a mouthful of arguments.

Kirk Wetters places this passage—likely written in 1775—in the context of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

The authoritarian consequences may be ominous, or at least cynical, but they also show that, even before the Revolution, Lichtenberg had no illusions—the general illusion of the Enlightenment described by Koselleck and discussed in my chapter 2—that reason will simply triumph and rule by itself automatically and without violence. By describing a continuum of mind and body, Lichtenberg also does not draw an essential distinction between means and ends. Reason is the battlefield as much as the actual battles are wars of reason. Thus, more than ten years before the Revolution, Lichtenberg in a sense foresees the nexus of terror and ideology that would become definitive in the coming epoch.

And 236 years later Lichtenberg also apparently explained NATO’s bombing of Libya.


Soldiers, arguments and revolution

  1. “Kirk Wetters places this passage—likely written in 1775—in the context of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.”

    I think you’ve put your finger on the biggest problem on the planet right now.

    ‘1775’….and the American revolution was 1776, the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was also written in 1776,  Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and his famous ‘invisible hand’ came into being in 1776 too,  the French Revolution 1789,  the Age of Enlightenment was 1650–1700….and most of all the Industrial Age started around 1750.

    In other words everything that people believe and follow today, particularly our leaders, comes from the 1700s.

    However, as you note….that was over 2 centuries ago…and those things no longer apply in a world that is actually light years away from conditions and situations then.

    “If we are to be governed in all things by the men of the eighteenth century, and the twentieth by the nineteenth, and so on, the world will be always governed by dead men.”

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton said that…in 1872…it’s even truer today.  We are being governed by dead men, and dead ideas. Things that no longer work. This is an era of space, and computers and globalization.

    The Industrial Age is over, and we have moved on into the Knowledge Age. We can no longer afford to be using tools and ideas from the long-ago past.

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