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Hermeneutic Interpretation

Introductory Dissertation

I

Preamble—Purpose of this Work

The work that I am publishing on the social state of man was destined at first to become part of a more considerable work that I had planned upon the history of the world and its inhabitants, and for which I had collected much material. My intention was to present from the same point of view, and in effective arragement, a general history of the globe that we inhabit, under all the relations of history, natural and political, physical and metaphysical, civil and religious, from the origin of things to their last developments, in such a way as to describe without any prejudice the cosmogonical and geological systems of all peoples, their religious and pilical doctrines, their governments, customs, and diverse relations; the reciprocal influences which they exercise upon civilization, their movements upon the earth, and the fortunate or unfortunate events which describe their existence more or less agitated, more or less long, more or less interesting; in order to draw from all this, knowledge more extensive and more sure than has hitherto been obtained upon the intimate nature of things, and, above all, that of Man, whom it is most important to understand.

When I conceived this plan, I was still young and full of that hope that characterizes a presumptuous youth; I saw no obstacles that could prevent my carrying through this great plan. Proud of a certain moral force and determined upon persistent labour, I believed that nothing could resist the two-fold ascendancy of perseverance and the love of truth. I devoted myself, therefore, to study with an insatiable ardour, and I increased unceasingly my store of learning, not concerning myself with the use to which I might one day put it. It must be said that I was forced somewhat by my political position into the seclusion which necessitated such devotion. Although I had not played a conspicuous part in the course of the Revolution, and although I had held myself equally apart from both factions, a stranger to all intrigue, to all ambition, I had such relations with affairs and men that my opinions and my personality could not remain wholly in obscurity. Circumstances independent of my will had caused my opinions to become known to Bonaparte, exaggerating further in his eyes anything that might have been contrary to his designs; so that since his admittance to the Consulate, he had held against me a hatred strong enough for him to determine to proscribe me without motive, by expressly inserting my name among those of two hundred unfortunates whom he sent to perish upon the inhospitable shores of Africa. If by signal favour of Providence I survived this banishment, it would be necessary for me to act with great prudence, as long as the reign of Napoleon laster, to evade the snares, which he might have set for me.

My taste and my situation coincided therefore to make me cherish the refuge and devote my attention to study.

When resting a moment from my exploratory labours to glance upong the results of my exploration, I beheld, however, with some surprise that the greatest difficulties were not where I had first magined them and that it was not so much a question of collecting the materials to construct the ediface that I meditated as of understanding well their nature, in order to arrange them, not according to their form, but according to their homogeneity; their form depending almost always upon time and exterior circumstances while their homogeneity belonged to the very essence of things. This reflection having brought me to examine profoundly many doctrines which the savants have classed ordinarily as incongruous and contrary, I convinced myself tha tthis pisparity and this opposition consisted solely in the forms, the basis being essentially the same. I presented henceforth the existence of a great Unity, the eternal Source whence all issues, and I saw clearly that men are not so far from the truth as they generally believe. Their greatest error is in searching for it where it is not, and in attaching it to forms, whereas they ought to dwell upon the essence; it should be borne in mind also that these forms are often their own creations, as was the case with literary monuments of the highest importance such as the cosmogony of Moses. I beg the liberty of pausing a moment upon this extraordinary fact, because it will explain many things that without this would later appear obscure.

If when one wishes to write a history of the earth, one takes this cosmogony according to its vulgar forms, such as are given by erroneous translations, one suddenly finds a shocking contradiction with the cosmogongies of the most illustrious, the most ancient, and the most enlightened nations of the world. Therefore it is wholly necessary either to reject immediately the scheme first accepted or to consider the sacred writers of the Chinese, Hinus, Persians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans, and the Celts our ancestors, as impostors or ibiciles; for all, without exception, give the earth an antiquity incomparably greater than this cosmogony. It would be necessary to overthrow all the chronology of nations, to mutilate their history, to belittle all the great things they had seen, to magnify all that which to them had been imperceptible, and to renounce that wisdom so extolled by the Egyptians,—that wisdom for which the greatest of men have searched at the peril of their lives and of which Pythagoras and Plato have transmitted to us incontestable monuments. But it is impossible to reject such a cosmogony; since it serves as a basis for three of the most powerful cults of the earth, whether by their antiquity, their brilliance, or their extent,—Judaism, Christianity, and Islamism—it is evident for whoever can perceive divine things, that even through the thick veil which the translators of Moses have spread over the writings of this able theocrat, he will discover there unequivocal traces of the inspiration by which it was animated. However, ought one, in sanctioning this cosmogony such as is contained in the vulgar translations, to continue to isolate it from the rest of the world, regarding as impious or false all that which is not comformable with it and treating the rest of the earth as sacrilegious, as does enlightened and powerful Europe, ans behaving as she behaved some thousand years ago, in regard to the small, ignorant, and poor country called Judea? This would be still less possible.

Perhaps someone may say, why fret concerning a thing that ought to be left to fall peaceably into oblivion? Books, such as those written by Moses were for times of obscurity. The best thing to do in radiant ages such as ours is to abandon them to the people who reverence them without understanding them. The savants have no need of being instructed in what the law-maker of the Hebrews thought four thousand years ago in order to build the cosmogonical and geological systems; our encyclopædias are full of admirable things on this subject. Admirable indeed, if one judges by the number; but so vain, so futile, that whereas the book of Moses has sustained itself for fourty centuries and held the attention of peoples, a few days suffice to overthrow those with which one attempts to oppose him and to extinguish the trifling sparks which are raised against this imposing meteor.

Be assured, savants of the world, it is not in distaining the sacred books of nations that you show your knowledge; it is in explaining them. One cannot write a history without monuments and that of the world is no exception. These books are the veritable archives wherein its deeds are contained. It is necessary in exploring the venerable pages to make comparison between them and to understand how to find the truth, which often languishes there covered by the rust of ages. I saw that if I wished to write a history of the world, I ought to know the monuments which it contains and above all to make sure that I was in a position to explain them thoroughly. Now, that the cosmogony of Moses is one fo these monuments is assuredly beyond doubt. It would, then, be ridiculous to pretend to ignore it while passing along a route of which it occupies the whole extent. But if the historian is forced, as I have said, to stop before this colossal memorial and to adopt its principles, what will become of the other monuments which he will encounter and whose principles, equally imposing and venerable, will be found contradicted? What will he make of all the modern discoveries which cannnot adapt themselves to it? Will he say to evidence that it is deceiving and to experience that it has ceased to demonstrate cause and effect? No; unless ignornace and prejudice had previously tied a double bandage over his eyes. This historian will without a doubt reason as I have reasoned in his place.

I say to myself: Since the Sepher of Moses, which contains the cosmogony of this famous man, is evidently the fruit of some sublime genius led by divine inspiration, it cannot but contain true principles. If this genius has erred sometimes, it is only perhaps in the matter of inferences, in overstepping the intermediary ideas or attributing to a certain cause effects that belong with another; but these trifling errors which result often from hastiness of peculiar phrasing and the éclat of representations are mere nothings in comparison with the fundamental truth which is the soul of the writings and which must be found essentially indentical in all the sacred books of the nations, emanating as his from the unique and fecund Source whence flows all truth. If it does not appear thus, it is because the Sepher, composed in a language long since ignored or lost, is not longer understood and because its translations have voluntarily or involuntarily altered or perverted the sense.

After reasoning thus, I passed in order to its application. I examined with all the care at my command the Hebrew of the Sepher, and I was not long in perceiving, as I have remarked elsewhere, that it was not expressed in the vulgar translations, and that Moses said in Hebrew scarcely a word of what his greek and Latin translators made him say.

It is utterly useless for me to repeat here at length, what one can find entirely developed in the work that I have expressly written upon the subject1; suffice it to say, for the understanding of the latter, that the time which I had planned for writing the history of the world, after I had collected the material, was almost entirely employed in explaining a single one of the monuments which contained the material in part, so that this monument of irrefutable authenticity should not contradict, bu its formal opposition, the ordinance of the ediface nor cause it to give way upon its base, in refusing it its fundamental support. This explanation even, made in the usual manner, did not suffice. It was necessary to prove to others, with much labour and difficulty, that which was so easy to prove to myself, and to restore a language lost more than twnety-four centuries ago, to create a grammar and a redical dictionary to support the verbal translation of some chapters of the Sepher from a mass of notes drawn from all the languages of the Orient, and finally to increase twenty pages of the text to the extent of two quarto volumes of explanations and proofs.

This was not all: in order to draw these two volumes from the obscurity of my portfolio, where they would have undoubtedly remained for want of means to meet the considerable expense of printing them, it was necessary to attract attention to them, and this I could not do without taking a stand which displeased Napoleon, at that time all powerful; and this again made me the victim of a persecution, secret it is true, but none the less painful, since it deprived me of the only means I had of subsistence.2 My two volumes were indeed printed, but much later and through the co-operation of particular circumstances which I can justly regard as providential.

The publication of my book upon the Hebraic language, far from giving me the facilities upon which I was counting in order to pursue my design for the history of the world, seemed on the contrary to deprive me of them, by laying myself open to metaphysical and literary discussions which changing into dissentions carried their venom into the very precincts of my domestic fireside.

The time, however, is passed and although favoured with all the vigour of life, I have vainly tried to accomplish a plan perhaps out of proportion to my physical and moral power. Ought I to hope further for its attainment today, since the autumn of my life is daily losing its ardour? It would be presumption to believe it. But that which I shall not be able to do, another may, under more fortunate conditions, succeed in doing. My glory, if I obtain any, will be in having traced and smoothed the way for him. Already I have given him in my translation of the Sepher of Moses an absolutely sure foundation. If I can ever finish the commentary, I will show that the cosmogony of this great man is conformable, on account of the essence of things, with all the sacred cosmogonies admitted but the nations. I will do it for what I did for the Vers dorés of Pythagoras, in the examinations of which I have proved that the philosophical and theosophical ideas therein contained have been the same in all time and among all men capable of conceiving them. I had previously pointed out the origin of poetry and shown in what the essence differs from the form: this pertains always to the history of the world; for the first oracles were rendered in verse, and it is not without cause that poetry has been named the language of the gods.

Among the fragments over which I had worked in order to enter upon the great work of which I have spoken, the most noteworthy are those dealing with the social state of man and the diverse forms of government. Even if I had not been urged to publish them, in order to furnish useful material to those who wished to devote themselves to the same studies as I, it seems to me that the treatening circumstances in which we are would have made me take that resolve. All the world is occupied with politics; each one dreams of his Utopia, and I do not see, among the innumerable works that appear on this matter, that any one touches the real principle; the greater part, far from throwing a light upon this important mystery of human society, upon the bond which strengthens it and the legislation which conducts it, seems destined, on the contrary, to cover it with thickest gloom.

Those in general who write upon this serious subject, more occupied with themselves and their particular passions than with the universality of things of which the whole escapes them, circumscribe their views too much and show too plainly that they know nothing of the history of the world. Because they have heard of the Greeks and Romans, or because they have read the annals of these two peoples in Herodotus or Thucyldides, in Titus Livius or Tacitus, they imagine that all is known; deluded by their guides, intoxicated with their won ideas, they trace in turn by a thousand ways the same road in the shifting sands; they imprint without cessation new steps upon effaced tracks and end always by wandering in the desets or by losing themselves in the pitfalls. That which they lack is, I repeat, the knowledge of the true principles, and this knowledge, which depends upon that of the universality of things, is always produced by it, or produces it irresistibly.

I have pondered long upon these principles and believe I have penetrated them. My object is to make them known; but this enterprise is not without some difficulty; for although these principles have a name well known and extensively used, it is more necessary that this name should give the just idea of the immense thing that it expresses. It does not suffice to define them, since any definition of principles is incomplete for the reason that it defines that which is undefinable and gives limit to what has none. It is most necessary to see them in action in order to comprehend them and to try to distinguish them in their effect, since it is absolutely impossible to understand them in their cause. These considerations and others which will reveal themselves easily in the course of this work, have actuated me to lay aside at once the didactic or dogmatic form, substituting for it the historic form, so that I might present in a narrative many things whose development would otherwise have been prohibited or whould have been impeded by interminable delays.

This historic form which I have adopted in essence affords many advantages, permitting me not only to put often en scéne and to personify likewise the political principles, thereby making the action better felt; but it has given me opportunity to present compendiously a particular picture of the history of the world in its political relation, such as I had originally conveived and already outlined in order to make it form an integral part of the general picture with which I was engaged. I dare to flatter myself that a reader, curious to go back from effects to causes and to become acquainted with prior events, will pardon me the well-known details into which I am forced to enter, in favour of those little known or completely ignored which I will demonstrate to him for the first time. I think he will also permit me several indispensable hypotheses in the transendental movement which I have taken towards the origin of human societies. I assume that he will not ask of me historic proofs of an epoch where no history exists and that he will content himself with the moral or physical proofs which I will give him—proofs drawn from rational deductions or from etymological analogies. It will be sufficient for him to see, when the historic proofs come, that they in no wise contradict these primary hypotheses which they on the contrary sustain and by which they are sustained. It only rests now for me, in terminating this preamble, to say one word and this word is perhaps the most important. We are about to speak of Man; and this being is not yet known to us either in his origin or in his faculties or in the hierarchical order which he occupies in the universe. To recognize him in his origin, that is to say, in his ontological principle, is useless for us at the moment, since we have no need to know what he has been outside the actual order or things, but only to understand what he is in this order; thus we can leave to cosmogony, of which ontology, properly speaking, constitutes a part, the task of teacing us the origin of man as it taught us the origin of the earth; it is in the writing of Moses and other hierographhical writers that we can learn these things; but we cannot dispense with questioning the anthropological knowledge if it exists or creating it if it does not exist, in order to instruct ourselves concerning what Man is, considered as Man, what his moral and physical faculties are, how he is constituted intellectually and physically, in the same manner as we question geological or geographical science, if we could occupy ourselves with the interior and exterior forms of the earth. I assume that these last two sciences are known to my readers, at least in general, and that there are as many positive ideas open physical man as is necessary in reading an ordinary history such as is commonly written. But my intention in treating of the social state of Man and of the political and philosophical history of Mankind is not to repeat what one finds elsewhere, but, on the contrary, to disclose new things and raise myself to heights but little frequented. I must in advance make known the intellectual and metaphysical constitution of Man, such as I have conceived it, so that I can make myself understood when I will speak of the successive development of the moral faculties and of their action.

 

1 La language hébraïque restituée, etc., in which is found the cosmogony of Moses such as is contained in the first ten chapters of Beræshith, vulgarly called Genesis.

2 See a small brochure entitled: Notions sur le sens de l’ouïe, etc., in which it speaks in detail of these annoyances.

 

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