Lucien Goldmann George Lichtheim - Essay

George Lichtheim

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Although considerable liberties have been taken in translating the text of The Hidden God], M. Goldmann is himself responsible for some of the resulting obscurities, since his terminological usage wobbles dangerously between neo-Kantianism, Marxism and 'religious atheism', so that he is able, in one and the same breath, to disclaim any theological attachments and yet to describe both 'tragic' and 'dialectical' forms of thought as 'philosophies of incarnation'. (p. 322)

[Goldmann] regards Pascal and Racine as the key figures in the politico-theological crisis which convulsed mid-17th-century France: a crisis involving (a) the disintegration of the traditional social order, (b) the dissolution of the Thomist worldview, and (c) certain mundane conflicts between the Court and the social stratum to which Pascal and Racine belonged…. His treatment of this admittedly very complex theme probably struck his French readers in 1955 as a particularly enlightening example of the Marxian approach to the problem of historical 'totality'. Jansenism as the ideology of the noblesse de robe is indeed an excellent subject for a Marxist. This was proved as early as 1934, when the late Dr. Franz Borkenau published his unfairly neglected work on the philosophy of the 17th century, Der Übergang vom feudalen zum bürgerlichen Weltbild. The thesis that Pascal (without being aware of it) acted as the spokesman of a whole stratum of society whose tacit support lay behind the Jansenist near-revolt was there set out at some length: along with a number of highly original and pertinent reflections on the social role of theology in an age of crisis. M. Goldmann (without ever mentioning Borkenau) goes over the same ground in rather more pedestrian fashion, and in the end comes up with the identical conclusion: Jansenism is to be understood as the ideology of the noblesse de robe in its struggle against the Court and the Jesuits.

This may well be the case. But it raises an awkward problem to which he does not seem to have quite found the answer: if the dilemma of a group of theologians around Port Royal accounts for the well-known inconsistencies in Pascal's thinking, and if this dilemma itself was rooted in a particular political situation—the inability of the noblesse de robe to make...

(The entire section is 957 words.)