Georg Lukács on Relativism, Feuerbach, Nietzsche & Spengler

For if man is made the measure of all things, and if with the aid of that assumption all transcendence is to be eliminated without man himself being measured against this criterion, without applying the same ‘standard’ to himself or – more exactly – without making man himself dialectical, then man himself is made into an absolute and he simply puts himself in the place of those transcendental forces he was supposed to explain, dissolve and systematically replace. At best, then, a dogmatic metaphysics is superseded by an equally dogmatic relativism.

This dogmatism arises because the failure to make man dialectical is complemented by an equal failure to make, reality dialectical. Hence relativism moves within an essentially static world. As it cannot become conscious of the immobility of the world and the rigidity of its own standpoint it inevitably reverts to the dogmatic position of those thinkers who likewise offered to explain the world from premises they did not consciously acknowledge and which, therefore, they adopted uncritically. For it is one thing to relativise the truth about an individual or a species in an ultimately static world (masked though this stasis may be by an illusory movement like the “eternal recurrence of the same things” or the biological or morphological ‘organic’ succession of periods). And it is quite another matter when the concrete, historical function and meaning of the various ‘truths’ is revealed within a unique, concretised historical process. Only in the former case can we accurately speak of relativism. But in that case it inevitably becomes dogmatic. For it is only meaningful to speak of relativism where an ‘absolute’ is in some sense assumed. The weakness and the half-heartedness of such ‘daring thinkers’ as Nietzsche or Spengler is that their relativism only abolishes the absolute in appearance.

SOURCE: Lukács, Georg. “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat” (1923), in History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, translated by Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), pp. 83-222. This excerpt is from III: The Standpoint of the Proletariat, section 5, p. 187. This passage takes off from a commentary on Ludwig Feuerbach.

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