Saint-Martin (1743-1803) is a rare sort of philosopher, like of which one wouldn't expect to find out in the middle of French Enlightenment: a mystic, who was especially famous for translating works of Jakob Boehme. It is no wonder that a Schellingian like Franz von Baader was interested of the fellow. Although Saint-Martin is then an interesting writer to read, the peculiarity of his thought makes it also rather difficult to evaluate what he is saying.
Compared to the American religious thinkers I have acquainted myself with thus far, Saint-Martin has a capacity to make his obsession with some biblical stories sound nothing like preaching. This appearance is probably caused by the fact that Saint-Martin does not seem to accept Bible as a literal truth, but sees it more like an allegory of some deep-seated truths of human condition.
It is especially the story of fall that interests Saint-Martin. It is an important truth for Saint-Martin that we live in some manner in a fallen state, in which we are separated from our origin and from the truth of our existence. Humanity lives then in a state of duality, in which one force tries to tie her to the material nature around her, while the other force tries to lead her back to the original unity.
What the material world represents for Saint-Martin is the error that the title of his work mentions. It is especially materialism, with its assumption that matter is the primordial source of existence, which Saint-Martin assumes to be erroneous. In a line of argument, reminiscent of Leibniz, Saint-Martin suggests that matter cannot be eternal, because it is always made of something else, and this something else must be ultimately indivisible and therefore immaterial.
Yet, Saint-Martin is not suggesting that matter would be made out of monads, but from two primordial forces, one expanding matter into infinity, other contracting it into a unity – all very reminiscent of Kant's theory of matter. To unite these two forces, a third force is required, and beyond these material forces, a fourth immaterial force, governing the whole system of matter. These four forces correspond then with four traditional elements.
It is quite clear that Saint-Martin's theory of nature hails from a past, in which nature was still seen as full of simple mysteries, written not with the language of equations, but with the Pythagorean numerology. We do hear more fascinating suggestions of fantastic numerical relationships. Obviously three is an important number, as a symbol of a unity between opposed forces, and so is four, because fourth point, added to three points, makes up a material body. Zero symbolises circles, because circles have no angles – and zero can be identified with nine, for the very obvious reason that while adding 10 to a number adds one unit to it in the written form, adding 9 is in this sense like adding a 0 (it doesn't bother Saint-Martin that all of this occurs only in a decimal system). The most daring leap of thought occurs, when Saint-Martin states that a circle must be divided into 360 degrees, because shape of circle (0) can be approximated with six (6) triangles (3).
All this numerology sounds pretty far-fetched, but more interesting is Saint-Martin's idea that these numeric relationships are indications of an original language, of which all the earthly languages are mere faint reflections – that is, that the human mind has some intrinsic linguistic pattern, which makes us think there are interesting patterns in such relationships. Of course, Saint-Martin does not intend to draw any Kantian consequence, but assumes that this original language will take us closer to the original truth. Saint-Martin tries to uncover this original language from such a supposedly universal grammatical pattern as subject-verb-object – again, a triplicity. Yet, his final suggestion appears to be that music might be closest we get to the original language.
One might think this is just a harmless mysticism, with no practical application. Yet, Saint-Martin wanted also to suggest actual political activities conforming to his ideas. While the main idea of his philosophy is to return back to the original unity or truth, it seems pretty obvious he would emphasise the role of unity in state politics. Indeed, Saint-Martin goes even so far as to suggest that a good state ought to be governed by just one person – provided that she knows how to to attain the truth and lead other people to it.
If one can ever speak of an ideal of an enlightened dictatorship, here is a proper place. The problem with the ideal seems obvious. Even if we supposed a person who could have miraculously stretched the limit between our fallen state and the assumed original unity, it would still be a mystery, how we, who still live in a fallen state and are lured by the call of matter, could ever hope to recognise the enlightened person for what she is. If we cannot, we should be forced into the unity - but this seems unlikely to work - and if we can, then we already do not need her assistance.
This interesting dilemma suggests that we must reject the idea of ever finding a divinely reliable guide to good life. In next post, we shall see how a certain American suggested an alternative of tolerating different ways of living.