Language and Reality: The Work of Arnaud-Aron
Arnaud-Aron Upinsky, La tete coupee ou la parole
(The Head Cut Off or the Word Cut Off).
Paris: O.E.I.L., 27, rue de Pabbe Gregoire,
Paris 6, France, 1991. Softcover, 576 pp., mci.
Preface by Marcel Jullian, Bibliography. 230 F.
This unique book is astounding in scope, scholarship, and commitment to the position that truth really exists and that human language must truly express it. Its thesis is summed up on its back cover:
Since Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau we have known that every theory of power is also a theory of man, a theory of politics and of history. With A.- A. Upinsky the entire history of mankind is seen as essentially the war without mercy between two mutually hostile languages: realism and nominalism. The realists are those who believe in the truth of words; the nominalists, those who believe in the power of words. ...Upinsky's work is hence not merely concerned with the use and abuse of language but also with the exercise of power, the foundation of knowledge, and the nature of man. His factual documentation reaches from the high middle ages to our own time but draws most heavily upon the brief, disastrous span of the French Revolution (1789-1793). Anyone ignorantly praising this event as liberating mankind from the fetters of reactionary religious and political oppression will be shorn of this illusion. The old hierarchy of king, nobility and church was merely replaced by the new elite of lawyers and bureaucracy, still in power today in the name of "liberty, equality and fraternity." The "people" were never properly represented during the French Revolution as their vast majority, the peasantry, was not represented at all. Very quickly the radical Jacobins, actually only one-half of one percent of the people, claimed to speak for all during the reign of terror. Their leaders Robespierre and Saint-Just silenced and then killed all opposition in the name of revolutionary "virtue" till they themselves were silenced and beheaded in turn.
Today the nominalist thesis rules in the predatory language of the political rhetoric which constitutes the greatest intellectual mystification of all time. ... It is by cutting off the word that it causes heads to fall, by castrating knowledge that it makes the spirit powerless, by making itself double language that it maintains itself in power.
To expose this perversion of language in order to defeat the political language, to put language back on its feet has today become a matter of spiritual if not physical survival ...
Is it not liberty to have understood this?
The Enlightenment philosophers' myth of the "noble savage, which denied the Biblical Christian teaching of the fall, original sin and hence man's need for Christ as Saviour from sin, and which rejected civilization, the fruit of Biblical teaching, as oppressing and corrupting man's mythical primitive goodness, paved the way for the French Revolution holocaust. Now bloody human sacrifices and cannibalism are ubiquitous marks of primitive societies as Upinsky shows in detail; and bloody human sacrifices by the guillotine in the name of "liberty" as well as actual cannibalism reappeared with the Revolution in France, the leader of European civilization only a generation before. As Ken Ham, a prominent spokesman of the international biblical creationist movement of our own time, frequently points out, without Christ it takes only one generation for people to fall from civilization back into barbarism. In the United States of America today we witness a similar resurgence of the "noble savage" myth in a flood of books and films such as Dances with Wolves, "politically correct" hostility during 1992 against Christopher Columbus, the bearer of Christ and Christian civilization to the Americas, and the whole "multicultural" approach to the teaching of history replacing courses in Western Civilization. At the same time, not by coincidence, murderous primitive gangs roam our streets, our children are not safe in our public schools, and, yes, blood sacrifices and cannibalism in the name of Satanism are multiplying. The "harvesting" of blood from prisoners about to be shot in Castro's Cuba, and of organs from aborted babies and accident victims who may still be alive is also a form of cannibalism.1
Upinsky shows how the French Revolution's struggle for raw power was initiated by changes in language from the realist to the nominalist mode, mirroring the growing philosophical and scientific preoccupation with the transitory details of the here and now rather than the supernatural eternal, everlasting truths of the good, the beautiful and the true at the summit of reality which are given to us by the transcendent, personal Creator These eternal absolute values
...exist and must condition all life. The existence of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" of Genesis shows that good and evil are not arbitrary. They exist outside of the good will of man. They are even the finality of being. The realist theory of knowledge is hence that of innate ideas [of true reality]. God has simultaneously created the body and the spirit of man - as thing and name - according to the same model. In gifting man with language, God has given him the indispensable foundational ideas to construct the others and to assure his well being. Is not the idea of good and evil the first innate idea? the realist asks himself. (p. 191)Realism is the enemy of modern abstract and atomizing individualism as it is the enemy of evolutionism:
The biological analogy is the key of realist incarnation. It is by this view that the realist concretely conceives the idea of the universal, the idea of man, how "several men are specifically one single man." He notes in effect that it is kinds - man-kind, horse-kind, lion-kind, and so on - and not individual men, horses, lions etc., which God has created and which reproduce themselves. Man begets man but Peter cannot beget Peter!For Upinsky the origin of authority comes from God, "the Father of the Word," and even so the king must rule over his subjects as the father of a family, for all power proceeds from the power of the father "Thus, for the realist," states Upinsky, "the entire question of the three origins - of language, of knowledge and of power - is deduced from one single principle: `In the beginning was the Word."' (p.198)
For medieval man, the general ideas - the universals - are therefore in the image of the created kinds: realities independent of man which he could not create himself....
...it is the quality of the species which makes the individuals and not the number of the individuals which makes the quality of the species. A million sparrows will never again permit the recreation of one singie couple of passenger pigeons: this species has disappeared forever, as have many others. And it is not the brilliant theory of evolution which will give it back to us....
From the reality of the kind the realist deduces the idea of the reality of the family which becomes his representative model of stability, of movement, of unity and of authority. (p.192)
The realist takes natural language as his model while the nominalist takes mathematical language as his ideal "in locking up the Word in words - in labels - and then the words in numbers." Nominalist language both inverts and copies realist language. For example, the realist "Genesis" becomes the nominalist "Geometry"; "Word" becomes "reason, name, number"; "supernatural" becomes "temporal"; "revelation" becomes "invention"; "salvation" becomes "happiness"; "reality" becomes "sensation"; "spirit" becomes "sense"; "incarnation" becomes "abstraction"; "good" becomes "pleasure"; "evil" becomes "pain"; and so on (p.194-195).
For the nominalist "all qualitative principles of language must be subjected to the exterminating razor of the measurable. Henceforth, therefore, language is no longer a gift of the Word but the pure product of man's invention. It is no longer reality which makes the name but the name which makes reality, as in mathematics" (p.196). By reducing the world created by the transcendent, personal God of Genesis to the empirically measurable here and now, nominalism ultimately leads to a void without any truth or reality whatsoever. Upinsky is right: When the Word is cut off, the head, man himself, is cut off as well.
The nominalist "makes definitions which are useful rather than true," and therefore "only fractions of reality...Today, happiness is reduced to the living standard; justice to equality; fraternity to social transfer payments; the quality of life to mathematical life expectancy; opinion to statistics; politics to electoral percentages; prestige to salary, the people to a majority, etc." (p.196) Upinsky's list comes from today's France, but it is just as valid wherever this perversion of language has spread. We can all enlarge it by falsification labels like "sexually active" for "promiscuous," "politically correct" for leftwing academic censorship, "fetal tissue" for preborn babies, and so on. The modern academic trend of "deconstructionism" is nominalistic to the core. Charles Colson writes that
Deconstruction is literally the dismantling of language, texts and discourse. It began in the realm of language and has since spread to other disciplines. ... If language, discourse, and thus, the intention of an author, can be called into question and doubted, then other realms can fall like dominoes. History, law, and politics proceed from an undermining of language, not vice versa.2Upinsky is not the first modern thinker to reflect upon this deliberate falsification of language. Already in the 1940s C. S. Lewis pointed out that
The belief that we can invent "ideologies" at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as mere specimens, preparations, begins to affect our very language. Once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements. Virtue has become integration and diligence dynamism, and boys likely to be worthy of a commission are "potential officer material." Most wonderful of all, the virtues of thrift and temperance, and even of ordinary intelligence, are sales-resistance.8An astute observer of Nazism and Communism, George Orwell was well aware of the crucial importance of language perversion in the service of murderous tyranny. He appended a detailed description of "Newspeak," the language of the world-wide totalitarian government he saw in our imminent future, to his famous 1984. "Newspeak" is reductionist to the core and makes the very thought and expression of any and all finer variations of meaning impossible. The key Newspeak words "ungood" or "doubleplusungood" eliminate words like "had," "wicked," or "despicable," and thus exclude all moral value judgments from language itself. Upinsky refers specifically to this perversion (pp.365-866). 1984 also features a "Ministry of Love" or "Miniluv;" the state headquarters for the torture and brainwashing of dissidents, and "Minitruth," the state department of propaganda where current events and history are continually rewritten to suit the government line of the moment, and where documentation of the true facts is consigned to the "memory hole" (incinerator).
Upinsky emphasizes the close connection between reductionist, arbitrary, abstraction-mongering 4nominalist" language which murders true words, and power-mad elitist tyrants who reduce men created in God's own image and likeness to mere numbers in a "labor pool," a "work force," or "cannon fodder" which they can use and discard at will in the name of their hypocritical, pretended, media - touted "public safety" or "public welfare." This close connection was evident already when William of Occam (1285-1349), the brightest light of nominalist scholasticism, defined a word as neither a truth nor a reality hut rather as a force (p.198). It was also evident to the great Christina thinker Johann Georg Hamnnn (1730-1788) who stood virtually alone in his uncompromising opposition to the Enlightenment philosophers, writing as a "realist" of the first order standing upon God's Word alone:
Your murderous lying (mordluegnerische) philosophy has eliminated natureHamann also recognized the pernicious anti-Christian elements in his contemporary Immanuel Kant's concept of "pure reason," which was but another formulation of Plato's "pure idea" (nous). He wrote:
[We must] purify the natural use of the senses from the unnatural use of the abstractions by which our concepts of concrete things have been as mutilated as the name of the Creator is suppressed and blasphemed.4
"Words as objects undetermined by empirical perceptions are named, according to the basic text of pure reason, aesthetical appearances: therefore ... words as objects undetermined by empirical perceptions are ... non- or anti-words ... " 5Upinsky shows that with regard to men's rights and duties the realist believes that there is an absolute law or standard of right and wrong, based upon God and creation, from which men's legislation should proceed. The nominalist, on the other hand, believes that men's legislation, that is, man himself, periodically makes the "law" of what shall count as right and wrong. Great injustices are thus committed in the name of nominalist man-made, arbitrary, impersonal "law," and this "law" has perennially favored the ruling elites as was already recognized in ancient Greece.
Upinsky points out that the Terror of the French Revolution was imposed in the name of the abstract notion of the rights of "Man in general, who has all the rights, upon particular men, who have no longer any rights. Since 1789, all Terror is nominalist." The much touted declaration on "Rights of Man" proclaimed in its menacing first article that "Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Distinctions can only be founded upon public utility." These "rights" are then defined by the total State, whereas men 5 true right to existence is nothing but the right to be different, "the right to be weak" (p 480). We see today in legalized abortion of weak, defenseless preborn children and in the imminent legalized killing of the aged - "useless eaters" all in the words of the Nazis about the handicapped - the outworking of nominalist "human rights" based upon public utility over against the true, realist, biblical creation-based right to life of each and every human being as created in God's own image and likeness.
Upinsky has an interesting list of prominent nominalists and realists in history (p. 210). Among the nominalists he counts Pythagoras, Plato, Euclid, Roscelin, Abelard, Occam, Machiavelli, Galileo, Descartes, Fenelon, Spinoza, Newton, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Comte, Darwin, Picasso, etc. Among the realists are Homer, Aristotle, Isocrates, Anseim, Bernard de Citeaux, Pascal, Moliere, La Fontaine, Bossuet, Pasteur, Poincare, Bergson, Simone Weil, etc. "These two categories oppose each other back to back: truth vs. formal efficiency; the affective and reason; quality and quantity; logic and intuition; short term and long term; the a postenon and a priori; the spirit and the letter; the universal and the uniform; the religious and the intellectual." Disagreement over this or that person on this list is certainly possible; for example, was the devout Christian Fenelon really a nominahst, or emergent evolutionist philosopher Bergson really a realist? With regard to Plato, Upinsky convincingly argues in various passages that his famous seemingly realist "innate ideas" were actually abstractions rather than taken from concrete, true reality in the realist way, and that he was a thoroughgoing nominalist as evident from his notoriously totalitarian Republic.
Upinsky, at one time a mathematics professor, is also a supremely competent student of the French language as shown by his fascinating chapter on the revolution of language. Power language, language of inversion, and disinformation developed between the high middle ages and the present. High points of this development are the French Revolution as we would expect, as well as modern art personified by Picasso, and the modern explosion of information technology. Upinsky cites the story told in 1969 by Jacques Maisonrouge, the former chief executive of IBM Europe at the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences: "It is the year 2000. Two immense computers are installed, one in the United States covering all the Americas, the other in Europe covering Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals; finally these two computers are linked by transatlantic cable. The first question to them is: `Does God exist?' And the answer is: 'Yes, now.'" (pp.361-362). Information has replaced God.
In the last chapter, "The Beheaded Dream," Upiasky tries to sum up the many profound aspects of his work. Again we have a deeply moving fact in the modern art featured at the bicentennial of the French Revolution, where there was only geometric abstraction but no place for man: "It is the first time that the man of the West disappears from his art! Man was present everywhere in the architecture of the Middle Age; he is totally absent from ours." (p.514) We are reminded of C. S. Lewis's book The Abolition of Man, which also begins with the abuse of language (in textbooks of English literature).
Christians may in good conscience disagree with some details of Upinsky's book, such as his latent hostility towards free enterprise capitalism, his assessment of certain historical personalities, and of English as the nominalist international language of our immediate future. No language as such can be nominalist, and as Upinsky himself says, the basic structure of every language is realist and a variation of the original language God gave to Adam. The book is a veritable encyclopedia of facts the author gleaned from a wide field of human action. In dealing with the war between realism and nominalism, long considered irrelevant among Western thinkers, and in delv- ing into a thousand years of Western history we have largely forgotten or never knew, he widens our horizon and nourishes our inner life. There is abundant food for our thought and further research in the copious footnotes alone. Most important, Upinsky is both innovative and correct in his major theses on the right use of language in the service of truth and created reality, and the abuse of language to alter and transform reality by abstractions and lies spoken in hypocrisy for the sake of worldly power. He also correctly reasons that language precedes and initiates action.
Finally, Upinsky's work confirms the foundation truth opening the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by Him; and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men." Even though this light "shines in darkness, and the darkness has not understood it," yea, even seeks to extinguish it, He, our Word, Creator, Life and Light is also our Victory and cannot fail. Nominalism, the offshoot and perversion of Realism, cannot prevail against it any more than the branch can separate from and prevail against the mink and the Root.
1 For factual details, see Paul deParrie and Mary Pride, Unholy Sacrifices
of the New Age (westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988).
2 Charles Colson with Eflen Santilli Vaughn, The Body: Being Light in the Darkness (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992), n. p.173.
3 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947, Fourth Printing 1968,9.85.
4 Johann Georg Hamann, Saemtliche Werke (Collected Works), Josef Nadler, ad., Volumes 1-VI (Vienna, Austria: Herder, 1949-1957), II, pp.206, 208.
5 Hamann, Saemtliche Werke (Collected Works), III, p 288. Hamann has been shamefully neglected among Christian scholars of philosophy and history. For an introductory but comprehensive study, see Ellen Myers, Johann Gearg Hamano: Interpreter ofReality in Christ, Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. XI, No.2, 1986-87, pp.184-191; a very brief condensation of this study and quotations from Hamann were published in the Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly, Vol. VII, No.3 (Spring 1985). Also read the excellent biography by the dean of Hamann scholars in the USA, James C. O'Flaherty, Johann Georg Hamman (Boston: "Wayne Publishers, A Division of G. K. Hall & Co., 1979).