The Biocentric Worldview
By Ludwig Klages
Review: Gwendolyn Taunton
“Make no mistake: “progress” is the lust for power and nothing besides, and we must unmask it as a sick, destructive joke. Utilizing such pretexts as “necessity,” “economic development,” and “culture,” the final goal of “progress” is nothing less than the destruction of life. This destructive urge takes many forms: progress is devastating forests, exterminating animal species, extinguishing native cultures, massing and distorting the primitive landscape with the varnish of industrialism, and debasing the organic life that still survives. It is the same for livestock as for the mere commodity, and the boundless lust for plunder will not rest until the last bird falls.”
– Ludwig Klages
This collection of essays presents an interesting excursion into the work of Ludwig Klages, a philosopher and psychologist whose work has been as long over looked as it is overdue for recognition in the world of literature.
Born in Hannover 1872, Ludwig Klages is the master of what can be termed the Vitalist school of philosophy in Germany. The Vitalist school, which can be best briefly described as having a ‘biocentric’ metaphysical premise, draw its roots from the ‘philosophers of nature’ in the Romantic period – whose intellectual legacy then went on to spread forth though other philosophers such as Nietzsche, Burckhardt, and Bachofen – this fruit would eventually ripen and become the Vitalist school of philosophy, of which Ludwig Klages emerges as its most prominent representative in Germany.
The book itself presents a careful selection of Klages best works, meticulously chosen from the larger corpus of his writing Sämtliche Werke (Collected Works) which was originally published in fifteen volumes, and with selected poetry from Rythmen and Runen (1944).
Klages, unlike some of his intellectual contemporaries, touches upon a lot of topics which are of great pertinence today – notably man’s place in the wider ecological system, which as humanity proceeds to advance in technology and commerce without any degree of self-restraint or ethical considerations, grows more tenuous with every passing day. In this regard, Klages philosophical approach, though now quite old, is more relevant today than it was when he first wrote it, as the unimpeded ecological crisis grows increasingly imminent. In the first essay (Man and Earth), the role of humanity working in concord with nature instead of against it is brought to the fore, and Klages examines how the world would be if humans accepted that they are part of the natural world and not separate from it. Here he challenges the role of the natural world as a utility for humans, under the false banner of ‘economic progress’, lamenting the countless deaths of animals in the name of ‘progress’ which was already evident in his time.
Like Nietzsche, Klages essentially espouses a philosophy of life as a vitae anima, an animating force deep in the instinct, and located in what would be referred to in Nietzsche’s terminology as the Dionysian Will to Power. Life itself as the animating spirit is subconscious, but equally as powerful and as motivating as the conscious world. He does not however, follow the digression from Nietzsche’s ideas into the then newly emergent science of psychology, which began with Freud’s interpretation of Nietzsche. Freud believed that the subconscious mind was influenced by a number of components, but ultimately the most powerful one to his mind was that of sexual repression, which is something Klages critiques in another interesting chapter, ‘On “Pyschoanalysis”’. This chapter is devoted to a criticism of the Freudian technique of psychotherapy, wherein all thought processes are rendered as subconscious manifestations of the repression of the sexual instruct. In many ways, the type of psychology Klages seems to be espousing perhaps has more in common with Carl Jung or James Hillman than it does with Freud, despite both he and Klages being influenced by Nietzsche.
The Biocentric Worldview is highly recommended for those with an interest in philosophy, and in this collection of essays Klages tackles a wide range of topics, in a manner of thought which is closer to being ahead of his era rather than contemporaneous with it. For example, he queries such popular topics as ‘Nature vs. Nuture’, ‘The Value of Science’, and writes on a plethora of other topics such as ethics, truth, consciousness and the identity of spirit. In addition to this, there are also a number of chapters on psychology in which he reveals an astute knowledge of this subject also.
The book concludes with a collection of poetry by Klages, which additionally testifies to his talent in this area.
Overall, the collection of works by Ludwig Klages presents an excellent opportunity for those with an interest in philosophy, psychology, or even environmental issues to discover a new thinker who has been unduly obfuscated by history. Anyone with in interest in these topics or examining how Nietzsche’s theory of the will to the power can be applied to wider philosophical schemata will definitely enjoy The Biocentric Worldview.