Enlightenment Ideology

Note 9: Augustine, Leibnitz and the City of God. 9/3/99

Leibnitz draws a fundamental distinction between souls (monads) in general and the human mind in particular in order to maintain the basic distinction between (wo)man and other animals that is demanded by the traditional perceptions of creationist ideology which always already exists in its constitution of hierarchical structures. Hence, he notes that "souls in general are living mirrors or images of the universe of created things," but they do not have the same capacities that he attributes to the human mind. In addition to having the attributes listed above, he argues

"that minds are also images of the Deity or Author of nature Himself, capable of knowing the system of the universe, and to some extent of imitating it through architectonic ensamples, each mind being like a small divinity in its own sphere."

This is essentially the same as saying that (wo)man was created in the image of God, as the scripture has it in Genesis, but Leibnitz does venture beyond the strict limits of Biblical discourse by suggesting, if only metaphorically, that the individual mind is "like a small divinity in its own sphere." This statement is actually unorthodox in one sense, while not perhaps heretical, because (wo)man was condemned to expulsion from the Garden of Eden by attempting to become "as one of us" (Genesis 3:22) when she/he disobeyed the commandment against eating the forbidden fruit. Satan, in tempting Eve actually suggests to her that she and Adam will become as gods once they are able to distinguish between good and evil ("ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil"--3:5). In stark contrast to Leibnitz's view of what it means to have committed an original sin, which in general only suggests that (wo)man is limited while God is illimitable, Augustine, in his City of God, argues that (wo)man has been condemned to a "second death," which is eternal, by her/his act of disobedience:

"the seminal nature [of man] was there from which we were to be propagated; and this being vitiated by [original] sin, and bound by the chain of death, and justly condemned, man could not be born of man in any other state. And thus, from the bad use of free will, there originated the whole train of evil, which, with its concatenation of miseries, convoys the human race from its depraved origin, as from a corrupt root, on to the destruction of the second death, which has no end, those only being excepted who are freed by the grace of God." (Book 13, Chapter 14)

Clearly, Leibnitz's view of original sin carries with it none of the harsh kinds of condemnation that the subject conveyed in the writings of the early church Fathers and his more benign view of the matter allows him, by making this change in the doctrine, to suggest that (wo)man is more than just a passive image of her/his Creator.

Leibnitz then pursues this breech in the absolute distinction between God and creature that was fundamental to medieval Christian ideology to suggest that every individual, and not just a select or chosen few, by virtue of being "like a small divinity," has both the capacity and opportunity to enter into a special relationship with God that was essentially unthought in an earlier age. He puts it this way:

"It is this that enables spirits [or minds] to enter into a kind of fellowship with God, and brings it about that in relation to them He is not only what an inventor is to his machine (which is the relation of God to other created things), but also what a prince is to his subjects, and, indeed, what a father is to his children."

The problem with this string of metaphorical substitutions, of course, is that they tend to diminish the absolutely unknowable aspects of divinity that have always maintained the radical distinction between God and human in the hierarchical structures of creationism by suggesting that God is only slightly more elevated above the most exalted and powerful kind of "prince" or "father" that anyone might experience, and even see, in her/his daily life.

Leibnitz goes on from this point to propose a new version of the City of God, one which stands in sharp contrast to the idea that Augustine originated as well. Leibnitz makes it all too easy for (wo)man to enter the realm of the fatherly prince, as it were, by saying that

"it is easy to conclude that the totality [assemblage] of all spirits [esprits] must compose the City of God, that is to say, the most perfect State that is possible, under the most perfect of Monarchs."

Here, Leibnitz simply suggests that any and every human being, because she/he possesses the monad of the soul, exercises reason and rationality enhanced by emotion, and has reached a level of behavior consistent with human, as opposed to animal, expectation, has automatically gained entrance to the "assemblage" he refers to as the City of God. Augustine, on the other hand, draws a sharp distinction between the human city and the City of God and envisions considerably more effort on the part of its citizens to achieve the state of "grace" necessary for entry than Leibnitz seems to suggest. In Book 15, Chapter 1, Augustine says that

"This [human] race we have distributed into two parts, the one consisting of those who live according to man, the other of those who live according to God. And these we also mystically call the two cities, or the two communities of men, of which the one is predestined to reign eternally with God, and the other to suffer eternal punishment with the devil."

Leibnitz does not completely cast out the notions of punishment and grace that are predominant aspects of Augustine's discourse, of course, but he pushes them firmly into the background of his philosophy by resisting the temptation that Augustine employs in arguing that citizenship in one city or the other is determined by predestination. Without the strong sense of moral outrage and condemnation that Augustine brings to his discussion of original sin, Leibnitz's "enlightened" view of the human condition, while it does not abandon the early vocabulary of medieval Christian ideology altogether, tends to suggest that (wo)man is less on a "train of evil" and headed to eternal damnation than she/he is always already being welcomed by a benign fatherly prince into an eternal life of blessed existence. In his description of the City of God, and its meaning, Leibnitz stresses the goodness of its divine Ruler and does not mention his capacity for judgment at all. He notes that

"This City of God, this truly universal monarchy, is a moral world in the natural world, and is the most exalted and most divine among the works of God; and it is in it that the glory of God really consists, for He would have no glory were not His greatness and His goodness known and admired by spirits [esprits]. It is also in relation to this divine City that God specially has goodness, while His wisdom and His power are manifested everywhere."

Leibnitz emphasizes God's role as Architect of the universe and as Monarch of the city of spirits and suggests that a natural harmony exists between one role and the other. He concludes by arguing that

"A result of this harmony is that things lead to grace by the very ways of nature, and that this globe, for instance, must be destroyed and renewed by natural means at the very time when the government of spirits requires it, for the punishment of some and the reward of others."

A significant alteration in Christian ideology, even a signature difference between Enlightenment philosophy and it, is the notion expressed here that the end of the world, which falls short of a total destruction because it will be "renewed" after it is destroyed, comes about by only natural means, and not by means of a supernatural punishing act of God which will destroy the material reality of life and remove everything left over as Good into the heavenly realm of the City of God. Leibnitz has considerably softened the harsher aspects of Christian ideology, make them more rational, as it were, and more acceptable to a population that has been touched, as he was, by the demands of making arguments consistent with the emerging ideology of the scientific method favored by Enlightenment thinkers. All the essential tools of creationism, hierarchical structures, and judgmental attitudes toward the other remain firmly in place, of course, even down to the notion that only the true believer receives the benefits of God's grace in the final hour, but every aspect of the ideology has been painted in kinder and less contentious language meant to make Christianity seem less militant than it actually is. One might even be justified in asserting that Leibnitz, and other Enlightenment theorists, are the people who put the false mask of loving kindness over the darker impulses on the true face of Christian ideology and practice that had always been the rule and not the exception.

From a native American point of view, nothing changes, since as before we are perceived as a people who do not possess the kind of monad (soul) that elevates us to the status of being citizens of the City of God. We are too primitive, too savage, to reach that level of inclusion in the whiteman's Myth of Eden.

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