Civilizational Reason and the Quest for Incarnation
Glen T. Martin
23 December 2022
I first read Krishnamurti’s Freedom from the Known (as well as many of his other books) many years ago when I was an undergraduate in college. During the late 1970s and early 80s I also heard him speak twice in person at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He is justly famous for his powerful insights into the complex dynamics of human consciousness and the fundamental awakening that can happen when we break out the confusions caused by language and duality.
Later, in graduate school, I was studying the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who declared: “Human beings are entangled all unknowing in the net of language.”[i] In his early book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein declared that “eternal life belongs to those who live in the present,” and he concluded that, “There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”[ii]
I did my Ph.D. dissertation on the problem of truth and value, and how human beings can move beyond the “nihilism” that philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had declared to be the central problem of modernity. The modern world, he declared, was in the throes of nihilism—the devastating loss of meaning and value, the total relativity of all ideas along with the conclusion that there is “no truth” (“es gibt keine wahrheit”). I found in the work of Wittgenstein a solution to that problem. Wittgenstein engaged in a lifelong philosophical quest to understand the nature and limits of language.
By understanding the nature and limits of language it becomes possible to encounter the unsayable fullness of the present moment—just what Krishnamurti was pointing to. Here is the concluding paragraph of my first book, From Nietzsche to Wittgenstein: The Problem of Truth and Nihilism in the Modern World (1989):
At this level [of the immediacy of the ‘now’ beyond thought and language] no explanations are possible, nor desired anymore. The sense of “nothingness” and despair, arising through entanglement within the net of language, has been radicalized to the existentially realized “emptiness” of Śūnyatā. Through a deepened awareness of the nature and functioning of language, we come upon an inexpressible silence at its heart. We break through to a new immediacy where the phenomena reside in pristine integrity. We are no longer lonely egos apart from our world, resentful and frustrated by its seemingly obdurate features and longing for an illusory ground behind its spontaneity and immediacy. Our being-in-the-world is transformed through the emptiness, and the sufficiency, of the non-conceptual present.[iii]
Krishnamurti’s talks and writings helped me to this insight and conclusion. The overwhelming fullness-emptiness of the present moment (Śūnyatā) is available everywhere and always. Similarly, when I later, as an academic, studied the work of the 2nd century South-Indian Buddhist philosopher, Nāgārjuna, I understood him to be creating a philosophical treatise to show that: “There is nothing whatever which differentiates samsara from nirvana.”[iv] Nāgārjuna, from a Buddhist perspective, had done more or less exactly what Wittgenstein later also accomplished, both resonating with what Krishnamurti was saying. Krishnamurti, amazingly, was a person spontaneously awakened to the oneness that encompasses us, everywhere and nowhere—the One beyond language, words, and concepts—the unsayable Infinity at the heart of presentness.
Nevertheless, the very writing of my first book, From Nietzsche to Wittgenstein, reflected our common human (and often unrecognized) understanding of the power and reality of Civilizational Reason. Through philosophical reflection (the use of reason) one can see how language works, discern its limits, and encounter the infinite unsayability beyond its limits. My 1991 article “Deconstruction and Breakthrough in Nietzsche and Nāgārjuna” showed just this.[v] One can draw on the history of human civilizational thought to become clearer about the roles of both Reason and the unspeakable presence of things. Both dimensions of our human situation address the problem of nihilism.
Our profoundest thinkers, like Raimon Panikkar, reflect on this mystery of time and timelessness that encompasses our human situation.[vi] In their reflections, they are using Reason. Perhaps “Intelligibility” would be a better word. Our human capacity for intelligibility has emerged with self-awareness of the astonishing ability we have to comprehend the world. The ancients called human beings “microcosms” for this reason. Our human reason can mirror the intelligibility of the cosmos, at least to a large extent. Beyond this intelligibility, there is the absolute mystery of the One beyond thought and language. Both dimensions characterize out human condition.
Reason is as much a gift of God as is the Infinity at the heart of the present moment. Reason can also penetrate to the workings of the space-time-energy field known as our universe. Reason can set liberating, democratic principles for society and civilization. It can analyze the complexity of our human problems and discern causes, effects, and solutions. Reason is not the problem. The problem, as Nāgārjuna put it, is our “psychological clinging to our own thought-constructions.” As Krishnamurti affirms:
There is no outer and inner process; there is only one unitary process, it is a whole, total movement, the inner movement expressing itself as the outer and the outer reacting again on the inner. To be able to look at this seems to me all that is needed, because if we know how to look, then the whole thing becomes very clear, and to look needs no philosophy, no teacher. Nobody need tell you how to look. You just look… To come upon it the mind has to learn to look at life, which is a vast movement, without the bondage of time, for freedom lies beyond the field of consciousness.[vii]
Krishnamurti is brilliant concerning one half of our human condition—the timeless present, the infinite depths of the nunc stans, the eternal now that confronts us as a possible realization during every moment of our lives. But he dismisses almost entirely the movement inherent in human civilization surrounding the power of Reason to understand our universe and our human place within it. When Krishnamurti declares that thought is ‘desire’ and causes fragmentation between what is and what should be, he is correct in one very real sense, but he misses the necessary gift of transpersonal Reason in human thought and civilization and therefore misses a fundamentally important dimension of existence—the dimension of temporality and evolution.
Numerous great thinkers throughout Western philosophical history (from Plato and Aristotle to Habermas and Einstein) have recognized the universal power and significance of Reason. Civilizational Reason arises through the dialogue, debate, and collaboration of thoughtful persons throughout history. As Einstein and others emphasized, it also embraces the power of the imagination to envision ideas that are truly new and liberating. As Ernst Bloch emphasized, we have a “principle of hope” built right into the transpersonal dimensions of our minds.[viii]
This dynamic is independent of any particular individual person’s thoughts, opinions, or perceptions. Philosopher Errol E. Harris argues that the fundamental principle of organization at the heart of the universe itself has come to self-consciousness in us and provides our consciousness with its rational principle.[ix] Nevertheless, this transpersonal principle demands civilizational incarnation. We all feel this imperative to some degree. Civilizational Reason, while transpersonal, is not transtemporal. It exists under an evolutionary and historical demand that we achieve, or at best help make possible, incarnation.
Philosophers such as Henri Bergson and Martin Heidegger pointed out forcefully that all human beings live in a perpetual dynamic present that incorporates the past through memory and projects itself into an as-yet unrealized future.[x] This is known as our “temporal structure.” We are deeply historical and temporal beings. Our awareness of the timeless present should not lead us to dismiss the reality of the temporalized universe and our place within it.
We all live within a dynamic ‘present’ in which we appropriate the past through memory and project possible futures for ourselves and our world based on our knowledge of the past, our wisdom, etc. The future we project is nearly always an attempt to evolve a future “now” that is better than past “nows”—more pleasant, more just, more loving, more harmonious, more joyful, more fulfilling, or more meaningful, a future not just for ourselves but simultaneously for our world. I call this structure of futurity, and the values located in our sense of the future, our “Utopian Horizon.”[xi]
The future in human history is the anticipation and call to humanity to actualize our human potential for a just, free, equitable, and sustainable world system. Heidegger emphasized the priority of the future over the past and present—we live toward, and in terms of, a future that is bounded by awareness of our own death. Jürgen Moltmann applies this priority to history as well: “The criticism of past reality takes place in the name of past and present possibilities for the future. The criticism of origins serves the future. The criticism of tradition and institutions seeks freedom for the new.”[xii] This priority of the future lays upon us our great responsibility and world-historical task: to truly actualize on Earth the reality of human dignity in a common human community of justice, freedom, peace, and sustainability.
This constitutes our finitude and well as our great blessing and task—the utopian horizon values generated by Reason and imagination call us to truth, beauty, justice, peace, freedom, and sustainability. The gift of temporality is also the demand for incarnation—to bring the divinely inspired ideals of Reason into the concrete reality of history as well as the immediate reality of our individual lives. In Christianity, there is the existential demand at every minute of temporal existence to open ourselves to the “New Being” that can become incarnate in our lives. In the Christianity of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, there is the existential demand to incarnate the Omega holarchy into human evolutionary history.
Yet Civilizational Reason under the holistic paradigm that emerged during the 20th century has yet to have a substantial impact on today’s irrational, fragmentated, and antiquated planetary economic and political institutions. These institutions go back 4 and 5 centuries to a discredited and antiquated “early-modern” paradigm.[xii] Today, we know that Civilizational Reason, recognizing our common humanity and universal dignity, must unify humanity within an equitable and peaceful democratic world system such as that embodied in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.[xiii]
Our cosmos, like our physical lives, is structured temporally. As contemporary thinkers such as Hans Jonas, Errol E. Harris, or Raimon Panikkar[xiv] have pointed out in different ways, the universe has become conscious of itself in us for precious and important reasons that we struggle to discern. Freedom has emerged from the cosmic evolutionary process demanding that we engage in conscious evolution directed toward a transformed future. It is here that time and temporality become absolutely important. Our little temporal lives come and go in 80 or so years, but the evolutionary process inherent in our Reason and complementary imagination participate in and contribute to the Cosmic upsurge toward freedom, peace, harmony, and coherence. Can we incarnate these values on planet Earth?
Harris, with great perspicuity and extensive knowledge of contemporary science and cosmology, argues that the principle of order intrinsic to the universal evolutionary process of the cosmos has come to consciousness of itself in us.[xv] It is Reason that comes to this conclusion, drawing upon science, historical wisdom, and metaphysical insight. Harris shows us the power of Reason to elucidate our cosmos and our place within it and he concludes that this requires ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.[xvi] Hegel had attempted to do something similar in the early 19th century even before the 20th century paradigm shift toward holism. This is not mysticism but the power of Civilizational Reason drawing upon its ultimate criteria of coherence, harmony, and the quest for a future better than the past.
In the cosmos and human civilization as articulated by science and philosophy, there are levels of holistic fields, what evolutionary thinker Ervin Laszlo calls “holarchies.”[xvii] We must understand the ‘field’ of civilization, of our common humanity, discern its dynamics and needs, and establish a world system reflecting those needs. The organizational result should not be “hierarchies” but “holarchies.” We need to organize the whole of humanity with direct participation and integration from the grassroots of people worldwide into democratic, planetary economic and political structures.[xviii]
How are we going to feed, clothe, educate, and provide healthcare for all the people of Earth? Reason gives us the ability to design our economics, politics, and cultural lives for the common good of all (as economist Kate Raworth, among others, has pointed out[xix]). We require Civilizational Reason to integrate justice, human rights, material prosperity, freedom, and peace. Kant and Hegel also believed in the power of Reason manifest in such holarchies. For Kant, as for many others, there is a moral obligation to live under the holarchy of a planetary “federation of free nations.”[xx]
Our so-called global problems of war, disarmament, human rights protections, environmental crisis, and the need to create a just world system do not merely stem from our fragmented minds endlessly pursuing desires and finding sorrow. We also need to look at the natural systems by which our planetary ecosystems work, and we need to create human economic and political systems that conform to these planetary biosystems so that we can feed everyone, end war, protect universal rights and restore our rapidly deteriorating environment. For this, our best, civilizational, collective rationality is required, but something else as well—historical and civilizational incarnation.
The Constitution for the Federation of Earth falls into this latter category. Indeed, in my writings going back to the 1990s, I have argued that ratification of the Earth Constitution will help promote and encourage spiritual awakening of the sort that Krishnamurti describes. I have argued that it is foolhardy to say we must somehow wait for the spiritual awakening of humanity before we can have peace. The ontological priority of the future in history and consciousness demands actualization. The temporal structure of our lives demands incarnational action, and the Earth Constitution replaces the unworkable UN Charter and incorporates all viable UN agencies into the holarchical, democratic world government.
There are perhaps two main forms of evasion of this responsibility among concerned people: (1) to claim that the Infinite at the heart of the present solves all our problems, as Krishnamurti tends to do, or (2) to endlessly reiterate the ideals found at our utopian horizon without ever taking the concrete actions necessary to incarnate these ideals. Philosopher James L. Marsh declares: “reflection and freedom and praxis are essentially utopian in their full, unfolding life. Denial of utopia mutilates freedom and reason.”[xxi] The demand for the incarnation of our ideals is inherent within our concrete human situation. Authentic freedom and reason are essentially utopian in their nature.
I have pointed out repeatedly the ways the systems we live under today militate against both peace and spiritual awakening.[xxii] These systems breed nationalism, racism, exploitative competition, endless propaganda, deception, and environmental degradation. The Earth Constitution by contrast gives us a peace system, freedom system, justice system, prosperity system, and sustainability system.[xxiii] We need a concrete, practical organization of Civilization if we are to survive and flourish. Mere sets of ideals like the famous “Earth Charter” or the “Earth Wise Constitution” fail to give us anything but more ideals, forever postponing the needed incarnation of our utopian horizon values into the concrete affairs of human life.
The vision of this nexus of liberating systems arises on our utopian horizon as goals demanding incarnation within human history. Time and human temporality are not a curse but a divine gift. And the concrete temporality of our lives and human history intrinsically carry this incarnational imperative. In Teilhard de Chardin’s thought, we need a concrete embodiment of the evolutionary Omega Point of unity in diversity, of truth, of the self-actualization of Civilizational Reason, which is a fundamental aspect of the divine demand at the heart of the cosmic incarnational process.
Our individual lives, bound within time, come and go, but the evolutionary process of the cosmos, with its divine upsurge, continues at the Heart of Reality, and each of us can and should participate in this cosmic journey which is also the concrete journey of human history. But concrete reality, and the finitude of our temporality, demand from us real action, real incarnation, not just endless ideals.
For Sri Aurobindo (and his World Union movement that worked with the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA) from 1958 to 1991 to write the Earth Constitution[xxiv]), the universe has created a “self-conscious concentration of the All through which it can aspire.”[xxv] Aspire to what? Incarnation. Real change, a real holarchy of a transformed human condition under a ratified Earth Constitution opening for humanity a much greater opportunity for spiritual awakening.
The Earth Constitution is based on the collective use of reason to comprehend our global problems and respond with proper social, political, and economic arrangements. We need Civilizational Reason, gifted to us from the very foundations of the universe, and we need real incarnation, rather than endless equivocating, endless brooding about ideals, or equivocations like “mankind is not yet ready.”
The Constitution for the Federation of Earth offers us the possibility of a real incarnation of our divinely gifted Civilizational Reason within human history. It offers us the possibility of genuine liberating action and authentic incarnational conscious evolution. In my view, this constitutes by far the greatest “Categorical Imperative” for our 21st century.
[i] Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Grammar, Trans. Anthony Kenny. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978, p. 462.
[ii] Ludwig Wittgenstein. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Trans. D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1974, sects. 6.4311 and 6.522, respectively.
[iii] Glen T. Martin. From Nietzsche to Wittgenstein: The Problem of Truth and Nihilism in the Modern World. New York: Peter Lang Publisher, 1989, p. 376.
[iv] Nagarjuna’s Mūlamadhyamikakārikās (MMK) is found in Federick J. Streng, Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning. Nashville, 1967. The quote is from MMK, sect. 25.19.
[v] In Graham Parkes, ed. Nietzsche and Asian Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 91-111.
[vi] See, e.g., Raimon Panikkar, Myth, Faith, and Hermeneutics: Cross-Cultural Studies. New York: Paulist Press, 1979, pp. 448-50.
[vii] J. Krishnamurti. Freedom from the Known. New York: Harper & Row, 1969, pp. 16 & 71.
[viii] Ernst Bloch. The Principle of Hope. Three Volumes. Trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1986.
[ix] Errol E. Harris, The Reality of Time. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988, pp 104-105.
[x] Henri Bergson. An Introduction to Metaphysics: The Creative Mind. Trans. Marbelle L. Andison. Totawa, NJ: Littlefield, Adams, & Co., 1975. Martin Heidegger. Being and Time. Trans. Macquarrie and Robinson. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1962.
[xi] Glen T. Martin. “Utopian Horizon Value Theory: A Transformative Power at the Heart of Human Futurity,” in the American International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. Vol. 7, No. 1, February, 2021: aijhss.cgrd.org/index.php/54-contact/115-vol-7-no-1-february-2021. A short, popular version of this essay is called “The Utopian Horizon of Objective Human Values” found in the Letters section of www.academia.edu.
[xii] Jürgen Moltmann. Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 99.
[xiii] See Errol E. Harris. Apocalypse and Paradigm: Science and Everyday Thinking. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2000.
[xiii] Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Online at www.earthconstitution.world. In print from Institute for Economic Democracy Press, 2010 and 2014.
[xiv] Hans Jonas. The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984. Errol E. Harris. The Restitution of Metaphysics. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000. Raimon Panikkar. The Rhythm of Being: The Unbroken Trinity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010.
[xv] Errol E. Harris. Cosmos and Theos: Ethical and Theological Implications of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle. New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1992, p. 12.
[xvi] Errol E. Harris, Earth Federation Now! Tomorrow is Too Late. With an Introduction by Glen T. Martin. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press, 2014.
[xvii] Ervin Laszlo. A Systems View of the World: A Holistic Vision for Our Time. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2002, pp. 51-52.
[xviii] For elaboration of this concept, see Glen T. Martin. The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet. Independence, VA: Peace Pentagon Press, 2021.
[xix] Kate Raworth. Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017.
[xx] Immanuel Kant. Perpetual Peace. Trans. Louis White Beck. New York: Macmillan, 1957.
[xxi] James L. Marsh. Critique, Action, and Liberation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995, p. 333.
[xxii] E.g., Martin, op. cit., The Earth Constitution Solution.
[xxiii] See my Introduction to the Earth Constitution. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Democracy Press, 2014.
[xxiv] See Samar Basu. The UNO, The World Government, and the Ideal of World Union as Envisioned by Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India, Publishers, 1999.
[xxv] Sri Aurobindo, Sri (1973). The Essential Aurobindo. Ed. Robert McDermott. New York: Schocken Books, 1973, p. 49.