WHAT IS the meaning of human life? This is the most important question that one will face in the course of one’s worldly existence. Interestingly, Albert Camus once said: “I have never seen anyone die for the ontological argument.” People cannot, for instance, ruin the value of the things one has worked hard for because of ambition. There are things in life that we must come to accept. We call these things facticities. However, we cannot renege on the basic meaning of our freedom, and that is to be able to choose the kind of life we so desire.
Herbert Marcuse, in a letter to his mentor Martin Heidegger, said that one cannot separate the philosopher from the man. The moment a person says something, he or she must do so with conviction. It is one’s commitment to the truth. There are things that people must come to agree with in the public sphere. But the respect for human rights and the rule of law have long been settled as foundations of any real democracy.
Our humanity dictates that we cannot fall prey to the machinations and pretensions of power. A society that is truly just cannot sacrifice one innocent life so that others might live. The moral good has to be grounded in something that is immutable. If we follow authority blindly, if we believe for the sake of idolatry, then we are no less than maniacal fools. The pursuit of the common good cannot be tainted by blood. It is wrong to win one’s freedom at the expense of the freedom of another.
The history of the world is tainted with the blood of the innocent. But murderous dictators often rise from a previously obscure existence. Adolf Hitler was a lowly corporal during World War I. His rise to power and infamy was not self-inflicted. Germany lost that war and, with it, the viability of the Weimar Republic. The German people no longer believed in their leaders. Helped by the Great Depression that affected the whole world, Hitler exploited the disenchantment of the German people in order to advance his propaganda. The moment he seized power, everything changed. But it did not happen by chance. Germany allowed itself to be usurped by Nazism.
Back in the USSR, Joseph Stalin murdered his own people. His forced farm collectivization in Ukraine had deadly consequences: more than a million deaths. People resisted his policies, and so they were met by force, brutal massacres and executions. Stalin was known to have ordered the execution of many of his comrades during purges; he used handwritten notes on a mere piece of paper. But the world, of course, did nothing about it.
The Allied Forces welcomed the alliance with Stalin in their effort to defeat Hitler’s war machine.
Power infatuates. The memory of Julius Caesar reminds us of Cicero’s eternal words: “The noblest spirit is most strongly attracted by the love of glory.” Yet, the same love of glory will often cost the lives of thousands. The only way for one man to maintain absolute rule is the collapse of the moral fabric of society. We are still far away from that. There can only be one reason why such can happen. It happens when the human soul no longer finds its embodiment in free discourse. It happens when the ideals of great men and women are reduced to lifeless and empty abstractions.
We have every opportunity to help whoever holds the position of power to succeed. The role of civil society right now is quite clear. To use the words of Karl Gaspar, “the masses are Messiah.” Mass actions, mass demonstrations, and the like reveal that this society in which we live desires only one thing: the freedom of its people. Our country is currently at war: with itself. If our country were to succeed against this war, then it must emancipate the masses from the tyranny of greed.
Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship plunged us into the great divide in which we are today.
Fr. Danny Pilario is right in saying that we have to go “back to the rough grounds of praxis” in order to understand all these things. We cannot put our destiny in the hands of our leaders. No single person can carry the burden of saving the world. Many have tried, but all of them failed. The real task at hand, therefore, belongs to each one of us. So we must also stop blaming each other.
Only the rich can benefit from that. What we need is moral reform, and institutionally, social transformation.
Heidegger has carried the burden of being judged harshly by history because of his association with the Nazis. Marcuse, while acknowledging his indebtedness to the author of “Being and Time,” protested the silence of his teacher even with the murder of 6 million Jews. It cannot be the case that the “being of beings” can absolve us of all our sins. The only reason philosophy lives until today is that the human spirit has not ceased in asking critical questions as its solemn obligation. Perhaps Heidegger is right in quoting Karl Jaspers in his reply to his student: “That we have remained alive is our guilt.”
Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has master’s degrees in philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University and in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.
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