the spiritual chances which still fascinate us as the higher and highest possibilities of human beings: these include a non-economic definition of wealth, a non-aristocratic definition of the noble, a non-athletic definition of high achievement, a nondominatory definition of ‘above’, a non-ascetic definition of perfection, a non-military definition of bravery and a non-bigoted definition of wisdom and fidelity.
I will show that a return to religion is as impossible as a return of religion – for the simple reason that no ‘religion’ or ‘religions’ exist, only misunderstood spiritual regimens, whether these are practised in collectives – usually church, ordo, umma, sangha – or in customized forms – through interaction with the ‘personal God’ with whom the citizens of modernity are privately insured. Thus the tiresome distinction between ‘true religion’ and superstition loses its meaning. There are only regimens that are more and less capable and worthy of propagation.
The ethical programme of the present came into view for a moment when Marx and the Young Hegelians articulated the theory that man himself produces man. … [they] presented work as the only essential human act. But if man genuinely produces man, it is precisely not through work and its concrete results, not even the ‘work on oneself’ so widely praised in recent times, let alone through the alternatively invoked phenomena of ‘interaction’ or ‘communication’: it is through life in forms of practice. Practice is defined here as any operation that provides or improves the actor’s qualification for the next performance of the same operation, whether it is declared as practice or not.
It is time to reveal humans as the beings who result from repetition. Just as the nineteenth century stood cognitively under the sign of production and the twentieth under that of reflexivity, the future should present itself under the sign of the exercise.
By advancing their exercises on the tightrope of humanization, the extremists introduce the duty for everyone to pass a test in intermediate acrobatics to remain in the practice community of the humanized. The simple people obtain their certificate if they admit that merely watching makes them dizzy.
It divides ‘societies’ into classes of which the theorists of class ‘society’ know nothing. The upper class comprises those who hear the imperative that catapults them out of their old life, and the other classes all those who have never heard or seen any trace of it
For, as much as the general talk of ‘man’ may be infused with an egalitarian pathos, whether it concerns the real or stated equality of humans against their biological background or the virtual equal value of cultures before the court of survival-worthiness – it must always take into account that humans are inescapably subject to vertical tensions, in all periods and all cultural areas. Wherever one encounters human beings, they are embedded in achievement fields and status classes. Even the outside observer cannot entirely escape the binding nature of such hierarchical phenomena, as much as they might try to view their tribal idols in isolation.
…a practice-anthropological study cannot possibly be carried out in a detached, unbiased fashion. This is because sooner or later, every discourse on ‘man’ exceeds the limits of mere description and pursues normative goals – whether these are revealed are not. At no time was this more clearly recognizable than in the early European Enlightenment, when anthropology was founded as the original ‘civil science’. At that time, the new science of human beings began to push itself in front of the traditional disciplines of logic, ontology and ethics as the modern paradigm of philosophy. Whoever entered the debate on man did so in order to assert – as a ‘progressive’ – the equation of citizen and human, either with the intention of abolishing the nobles as secessionists of humanity or elevating humanity as a whole to nobility, or – as a ‘reactionary’ – to portray man as the originally sinful, corrupted and unstable animal that one should, for one’s own sake, never release from the hand of its taskmasters…