Ecotopia writing

Ecotopia and Political Expectations

Three Lectures on Paul Tillich

by Paul Lee

“There is a divinity that shapes our ends
rough-hew them how we will.”

There are three concepts to consider at the outset: palimpsest, occultation, and aletheia, the Greek word for truth.

Palimpsest is the overlayering of texts, literally meaning “scraped again,” as in erased and written over; occultation is an astronomical term, meaning one heavenly body passing in front of another, obscuring it from view; aletheia, means remembering what is forgotten, or, as Heidegger puts it almost unintelligibly in English, unconcealedness. I like hide and seek. Or garbled (to sift, select, inspect and remove the worst from the best).

I mention these terms to set the stage for my account of the influence Tillich has had on my life and the associations I make about that influence when I think of what I have experienced, in the line of social work. In other words, at least in my case, ve get so soon old und yet so late schmart.

I want to pay tribute to Tillich’s work in Selfhelp and give you a brief account of my work with the homeless in Santa Cruz, which has inspired my utopian plan for economic development: Ecotopia/USA. This plan relates to Tillich’s writings on utopia, largely collected in the volume: Political Expectations. I will comment, as well, on the theme of the “ecology of being” and give my understanding of the environmental crisis based on the following thesis.

The Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences is the key to understanding how the integrity of organic nature was undermined, accounting for the environmental crisis in the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society.

Tillich gave an address on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Selfhelp, of which he was Honorary Chairman: “The Philosophy of Social Work,” (The Quality of Mercy, Homelessness in Santa Cruz–l985-l992, by Paul Lee, Introduction by Page Smith), l992.

It is one of the characteristic gems he was so noted for–his ability to define and formulate, as well as inspire. The simple reiteration of the dignity and worth of a human being against the objectification of social service case work is typical Tillich. The following sums up the address:

“This leads to a final aim of social work. In helping all individuals to find the place where they can consider themselves as necessary, you help to fulfill the ultimate aim of human beings and their world, namely, the universal community of all beings in which any individual aim is taken into the universal aim of being itself.” p. l3l.

This view is curiously contrapuntal to a formulation of the infinite dignity of the human being by Joseph Popper Lynkeus, who exaggerates the issue of human dignity to the point of absurdity, in order to make the point. I’m afraid the point is as follows: humans are so devalued, the most absurd ad hominem argument is needed to awaken us to the truth of their value to us. Here is what Popper Lynkeus says:

“When any individual, of however little account, but one who does not deliberately imperil another’s existence, disappears from the world, without or even against his or her will, this is a far more important happening, than any political, or religious, or national occurrence, or the sum total of the scientific and artistic and technical advances, made throughout the ages, by all the peoples of the world. Should anybody be inclined to regard this statement as an exaggeration, let them imagine the individual concerned to be themself or their best beloved. Then they will understand and accept it.”

Disappearing from the world is close to Tillich’s remark about feeling unnecessary, a prelude to despair and hopelessness. In The Courage To Be, Tillich mentions how people in the Great Depression thought they had ceased to exist because they were unemployed. Having a job in America meant existence itself. Not having a job meant ceasing to exist–disappearing. You saw it in the photographs of the faces of men sitting on park benches, in the depths of despair, absent from themselves.

Existentialism, according to Tillich, is the outcry against such inhumanity, a protest against industrial society, substituting machines for human beings and turning them into cogs in the wheels of production and consumption, on daylight saving time, on the assembly line, or worse yet, turning them out into homelessness.

Industrial society uproots us from our existence. Gardens are an effort to replant the root of our existence, to restore a lost vitality. Organic gardens are symbolic of the re-affirmation of the integrity of organic nature, which industrial society has undermined and supplanted. The experimental laboratory is the equivalent of gardens in industrial society. Scientists moved into the lab from the great civic botanic gardens of the European Renaissance, the successors to medieval herb gardens, after civic botanic gardens developed astronomical observatories and chemical labs in the advance of physics and chemistry, especially after the triumph of organic chemistry, the chemistry of artificial synthesis.

I have spent years thinking about the juxtaposition of synthetic and organic, as well as industrial society and its impact on organic nature as a consequence of the development of modern science in alliance with technology. Tillich characterizes this development in his MIT address as an aim without an aim. It is clear that the concept of telos is almost as despised and rejected in modern science as vital force.

I want to get back to the garden, re-affirm the integrity of organic nature, and engage in utopian expectations. In my view, gardens best symbolize the utopian imagination–they are the memory of the Garden of Eden and an anticipation of the future restoration of the original horizon of goodness in the Kingdom of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, Paradise, the New Heaven and New Earth, where ripe fruit never falls.

The historical sequence, beginning in the Renaissance, looks like a betrayal of this vision: first they went out throughout the world looking for the Garden of Eden. Columbus was looking for it when he discovered America. When they could not locate it geographically, they settled for the great civic botanic gardens throughout Europe as Eden restored. The rebirth of Western culture was celebrated in botanic gardens, the major expression of the Renaissance, beginning with Padua and Pisa, in Italy. And then they became seedbeds of modern science and the age of the Plantocracy gave way to the emerging Technocracy–from Plantocrat to Technocrat.

I first heard Tillich speak when I was a student at St. Olaf College, in l952-53. He gave three lectures on Existentialism. I didn’t understand a word. I mention in my reminiscence of Tillich that I lay awake arguing with my roommates, who also hadn’t understood a word, whether what he had said was important.

I thought it was appropriate to show a little humility in the face of the truth that was over one’s head.

I went on from St. Olaf to Luther Theological Seminary to pursue a career in the Lutheran ministry. The Seminary thought Tillich was the enemy and they were ill disposed to Luther, so I transferred to Harvard Divinity School, because Tillich had been appointed to Harvard. I became his teaching assistant for his last two years there. This reflected glory was not particularly good for me because we were applauded every time we opened our mouths. Students applauded me because I told them what Tillich meant sans his German accent. You could hardly blame someone for thinking Tillich meant “virtue” when he said “worldview.” I think I misunderstood Plato and Aristotle on aspiring to divinity and thought the line was “to become as similar to Tillich as possible.” God knows I tried.

After Tillich left Harvard, I went on to teach at MIT at the invitation of Huston Smith, and from there I went to UCSC in l966. I had the impulse to start a garden project soon after arriving on the campus, partly because it was a great ranch landscape, partly because my name first appeared in a book about the garden and desert motifs in Western thought–Wilderness and Paradise, by George Hunston Williams, who had been my professor of church history, at Harvard, partly because “Flower Power” was in the air, wafting down on a cloud of marijuana smoke from the Haight in San Francisco.

Tillich’s quote on gardens again sets the stage:

The “garden” is the place where the curse upon the land is overcome. In it vegetable nature is liberated from chaos and self-destruction; “weed” there is none. This “garden of the gods,” of which every human garden is a symbol and an anticipation, will reappear in the salvation of nature.”

The Meaning of Health

Tillich places the symbolism of gardens in the context of myths of salvation and their correspondence with myths of cosmic disease, which he says can be shown point by point: “the disintegration of nature is overcome in salvation, the act of cosmic healing. A new earth, an everlasting spring (i.e., a vitality of the cosmos which never declines), a renewal of paradise is envisaged.” ibid, p.l6.

I remember when I found the essay in which this quote appears when I was studying at Union Seminary one summer because Tillich was lecturing. The essay: “The Relation of Religion and Health.” It was a godsend to me because I had forsaken medical school to study theology and Tillich showed me the relationship between the two fields, as he did with so many subjects because of his boundary line position and his devotion to a theology of culture, which was anticipated in his early work, The System of the Sciences. I copied out the essay in longhand and eventually published it in a small volume: The Meaning of Health.

Williams’s book is an extraordinary account of the biblical sources of the motifs of garden and desert in Western thought and the significance of these motifs in the origins of the institution of higher education in this country, where pioneers from the East, went West into the wilderness to plant a garden to start a school, following the biblical directives. So I thought a garden was appropriate on a former ranch, on the edge of the wilderness, where the frontier had run out to sea.

Once the garden at UCSC began, we were able to apply the Virgilian and Goethean theme of Arcadia to the biblical themes of Eden and Paradise, in terms of garden motifs, because the gardener I hired to do the job practised a form of horticulture, which had its origins in Goethe. The Biodynamic system of food and flower production, which was developed in the early decades of this century, by Rudolf Steiner, the great follower of Goethe. He had been the editor of Goethe’s botanical writings, at the Weimar Archive, when he was a young man where the seed for Biodynamics was planted.

Goethe had taken a famous walk in the late l8th century–his Italian Journey–for which he adopted the slogan: Et in Arcadia Ego. And I am in Arcadia. Chadwick and I took it as our motto for the garden project. According to Panofsky, it expresses the idea, “namely, the retrospective vision of an unsurpassable happiness, enjoyed in the past, unattainable ever after, yet enduringly alive in the memory.”:

Our gardener, not unlike the gardener in the absurdist novel by Kosinski–Being There– pun intended, was a major event in my life. He simply appeared, as though on a cloud, to assume the duties of developing a student garden project. His name was Alan Chadwick. He was Chauncey Gardener. We produced an organic garden at the university that was unique in the world, not least of all because it exposed the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences and the organization of what counts for knowledge in the aftermath of the scientific revolution. The defeat, refutation and elimination of Vitalism accounts for the abrogation of the integrity of organic nature.

This was why an organic garden was an offensive repristination in the eyes of the scientists on the campus, because it seemed like a Neo-Vitalist spook come back from the dead. This startled me as I had no idea such an ideological grudge lurked in the precincts of the scientific revolution. I should have known better. After all, when I taught at MIT, I found out that the students, in a rare instance of self-awareness, referred to themselves as “tools.”

By the time we were done, I had come to characterize Chadwick’s work as divinely ordained to replant the vital root of existence in the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society as a world above the given world of nature and therefore devoid of vital roots. Put more simply, Chadwick, with his spade, broke through the Physicalist crust and hardpan of the University and with a Neo-Vitalist affirmation, renewed the integrity of organic nature.

The garden opened up for me the basic conflict in the organization of knowledge at the University, which I came to see as the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences. Physicalism was burdened by its refutation and rejection of Vitalism, understood simply as the argument in behalf of the integrity of organic nature, against its reduction to physical and chemical forces. Searching for an illustration of the point, I found the key date–l828–when the German chemist, Friedrich Woehler artificially synthesized urea, the experiment credited with the refutation and collapse of Vitalism, the experiment and its consequences responsible for undermining organic nature, such that it had to be re-discovered and re-affirmed a century and a half later in the environmental movement, a NeoVitalist revolt.

Centuries earlier, Galileo and Newton, with mathematical physics, had laid the foundation for this chemical insult. The mathematization of nature and the reduction of nature to “dead things in space,” the triumph of Physicalism, is detailed by Husserl in his famous essay, a penetrating critique of Physicalism, The Crisis of European Sciences. Hans Jonas calls this development since Galileo, an ontology of death, juxtaposed to Vitalism, an ontology of life, in a broad interpretation of Western culture from its origins in Ancient Greece, with the European Renaissance as the dividing line.

The first chapter in his Phenomenon of Life–“Life, Death, and the Body In the Theory Of Being”, is one of the best essays I have found on the issue, along with Husserl’s Crisis and Tillich’s MIT address: “How Has Science Changed Man’s View Of Himself?”

It is instructive to demonstrate the shift from life to death in the history of key terms: the Greek word for nature, physis, which meant “plantation,” “what grows,” became the word for physics, the study of dead things in space. Hyle, the background or subground of nature, in Greek, meant “forests.” It went to mater in Latin, rather than silva. Mater, mother, Mother Earth, becomes materialism, the dead stuff underlying the dead things in space.

After commenting on the ancient ontology of life, where everything is alive and death is the big mystery, Jonas describes their reversal:

“Modern thought which began with the Renaissance is placed in exactly the opposite theoretic situation. Death is the natural thing, life the problem. From the physical sciences there spread over the conception of all existence an ontology whose model entity is pure matter, stripped of all features of life. What at the animistic stage was not even discovered has in the meantime conquered the vision of reality, entirely ousting its counterpart. The tremendously enlarged universe of modern cosmology is conceived as a field of inanimate masses and forces which operate according to the laws of inertia and quantitative distribution in space. This denuded substratum of all reality could only be arrived at through a progressive expurgation of vital features from the physical record and through strict abstention from projecting into its image our own felt aliveness. In the process the ban on anthropomorphism was extended to zoomorphism in general. What remained is the residue of the reduction toward the properties of mere extension which submit to measurement and hence to mathematics. These properties alone satisfy the requirements of what is now called exact knowledge: and representing the only knowable aspect of nature they, by a tempting substitution, came to be regarded as its essential aspect too: and if this, then as the only real in reality. This means that the lifeless has become the knowable par excellence and is for that reason also considered the true and only foundation of reality. It is the “natural” as well as the original state of things. Not only in terms of relative quantity but also in terms of ontological genuineness, nonlife is the rule, life the puzzling exception in physical existence.” p. 9-l0.

I remember the moment when a chemist stepped it off with me to the dinner table at the home of a colleague and said: “You know, the garden has done more to ruin the cause of science on this campus than anything else?” “Well,” I thought, “maybe there is hope.”

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, only instead of a Trojan Horse and Achilles with his ash spear, we had Alan Chadwick and his Bulldog spade. We had sneaked in an organic garden, in the strictly Vitalist tradition of Steiner and Goethe, mirabile dictu, under the unsuspecting noses of the members of the science establishment, who were sleeping at the switch, thinking the debate had long been put to rest with the burial of the dead corpse of Vitalism securely in the grave.

After the synthesis of urea, the coffin lid was nailed down in successive blows, which I will enumerate: the formulation, by the students of Helmholtz, of the Physicalist Oath, taken in blood; Freud’s “Project”, where consciousness is defined as a qualitative leap in the neurone, reminiscent of Oparin, the Russian biologist, who defines life as a qualification of dead matter; the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivism, the Philosophy of Physicalism and the elimination of metaphysics and all “theses devoid of sense” (Neurath); reductive behaviorism and the elimination of consciousness; cybernetics and artificial intelligence; psychedelics and the artificial synthesis of mysticism, or psychosis, depending on how you define hallucinations.

Then came Earth Day. The coffin, with it’s lid nailed down, came unglued. The corpse of Vitalism revived and sat up. Now the question is whether the environmental movement is anything more than the death rattle of defeated Vitalism. Who can say, as the future of the earth is being weighed in the balance.

This sketch of the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict gave me the basis for a new view of the significance of the history of Existentialism as a movement of thought. Tillich refers to the lectures of Schelling, in Berlin, as the “ur-text” of Existentialism. The date is l841-42. Goethe had died a decade earlier. The lectures mark Shelling’s turn (Kehre) away from Hegel. In the class to note it are Bakunin, the Russian anarchist, Lenin, Jacob Burkhardt, and Soren Kierkegaard. We have the ur-text itself, seventy-five pages of notes in Kierkegaard’s hand, translated by Howard Hong.

What occurred to me as I thought about the Physicalist/Vitalist

conflict and the origins of Existentialism, after the synthesis of

urea (l828) and the death of Goethe (l832), is the following:

Existentialism is chief mourner for defeated Vitalism.

Appropriately, Existentialism ends with Earth Day 1, on the weekend of April 22nd, l970.


Rachel Carson summed it up in her ballad of Cock Robin–Silent Spring:


Who killed Cock Robin? (read: Vitalism)

I, said the Sparrow, (read Physicalism)

with my bow and arrow. (read: the artificial synthesis of urea)

Who will be chief mourner?

I, said the Dove, (read: Existentialism)

because of my love.

And all the birds of the sky fell to sighing and sobbing

when they heard of the death of poor Cock Robin.

We had stumbled onto this subtext that seemed to be taken for granted. Hardly anyone talked about it. It was considered a done deal. C. P. Snow opened up a version of it in his “two cultures” debate, but he was on the side of the Physicalists and thought the humanities guys ought to learn a little science, just to come up to speed. Kuhn characterizes it brilliantly in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but he gives it a strictly formalistic account, without referring to the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict as the concrete historical case. After all, he published his study under the auspices of Carnap and the Vienna Circle, the international camp of the Physicalists.

An anecdote is in order here. Juxtapose Tillich’s System of the Sciences with Carnap’s Encyclopedia of Unified Sciences and you have the issue in a nutshell. When Tillich had a public debate with Carnap, Carnap acted as if there was nothing to talk about, they inhabited such discrete universes of discourse, reminiscent of J. Heywood Thomas’s response when Tillich asked him to raise his finger whenever Tillich made a logical mistake. Thomas replied he would have to keep his hand up all the time. Tillich, in his wisdom, thought he would break the ice and asked Carnap how he would define blushing! Carnap, of course, talked about a certain pigmentation in the cheeks while everyone watched him blush.

Let me diverge from the Physicalist/Vitalist theme which the garden opened up for me and describe another line represented by the garden–call it the utopianism of voluntary work service– issued as a challenge for the century, when William James gave his address at Stanford in l906: “A Moral Equivalent of War.” This talk reveals the historical background of my garden theme as a good example of the palimpsest subtext. The reason Chadwick had come to Santa Cruz was to visit his old friend, Countess Freya von Moltke, who was the companion of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a visiting Professor at UCSC, from Dartmouth, where Page Smith, the Provost of Cowell College, had been his student in the late ’30’s. I assume you know about Rosenstock-Huessy, one of the great thinkers of this century and the author of one of the finest books ever written about Western culture: Out Of Revolution, Autobiography of Western Man.


At Dartmouth, Eugen and Page and others had started Camp William James in l940, a leadership training camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Eugen had been inspired by William James and agreed with notion that Americans harbored a. spark of civic virtue. All you had to do was blow on it to make it incandescent. F. D. R. blew on the spark with the C.C.C.. Years later, following upon his experience with the C.C.C., shortlived because of the onset of war, Page wrote a letter to Hubert Horatio Humphrey detailing the idea of the Peace Corps, which Humphrey then proposed to President Kennedy.

The UCSC Garden Project was on this line of inspiration, although we didn’t know it at the time–it was a subtext. The Garden eventually developed a Farm and an Agro-ecology Apprentice training program in organic horticulture and agriculture, the first in the country. In effect, it was the replay of Camp William James without our knowing it, where the reaffirmation of the integrity of organic nature takes its place in the historical tradition of the moral equivalent of war.

Chadwick introduced me to two themes that became guides for the future: an economy of gift and an ethic of superabundance, although the formulations came from Paul Ricoeur. Chadwick gave away everything he grew, and he grew more than anyone could imagine, the slogan for which, I call–“too much zucchini”. John Jeavons, who took the Chadwick Method international, wrote a manual describing it: How To Grow More Vegetables On Less Space Than You Can Imagine.

In l972, seven years after arriving in Santa Cruz, my career was over. I thought the Garden, which took an immense amount of time, would count for a bad book, but I was wrong. I was denied tenure over “publish or perish.” As St. Augustine said: “I had perished, had I not perished.” Page Smith resigned in protest on the line–“any place that doesn’t have room for Paul Lee has no room for me”– and out we went.

I had anticipated the demise; I wasn’t completely blind to the handwriting on the wall; so, in l970, I started a nonprofit corporation–United Services Agency, hopefully to give myself something to do when I was out. The influence: George Hunston Williams again and James Luther Adams. Adams was the advocate of nonprofit corporations, in his work on voluntary associations, as a Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard Divinity School. I learned from him that one of the first acts of Hitler was to close all offices with a phone and a typewriter, namely, what we would call nonprofits. Williams provides the historic date for the inception of voluntary associations, when Joseph Blaurock, a Roman Catholic priest, was re-baptised, initiating the Anabaptist movement of the left wing of the Protestant Reformation, representing the free spontaneous behavior of the redeemed and establishing the principle of the freedom of assembly or the freedom of worship.

It was a propitious move. We started the Whole Earth Restaurant on the campus for the garden to supply and eventually organized over twenty affiliate projects exceeding a couple of million dollars a year in cash flow. I wrote it up but never published it: How To Become A Spiritual Millionaire When Money Is No Object.

The William James Association was the second nonprofit. I remember the day when Page walked in and sat down at our kitchen table and said we should start the William James Association and re-establish the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was fine by me, since I saw it as a vehicle for the Chadwick Method of organic gardening and replanting the vital root. It needed an army. In l976, Jerry Brown, then Governor of California, announced a California Conservation Corps and invited us to help organize it. Eventually, almost every state in the nation would organize a Conservation Corps, leading to the formation of the Corporation for Public Service, now headed by Harris Wofford, and Americorps, Clinton’s domestic Peace Corps, in addition to Vista. His account of the formation of the Peace Corps is given in his book: The Kennedys and the Kings.

In l985, Page and I turned our attention to the homeless problem and organized the Citizens Committee for the Homeless and opened the first public shelter. In l989, I started the Homeless Garden Project and the chickens came home to roost. We were able to get apprentices from the Chadwick Garden to help teach the homeless how to garden and out of this came a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where over one hundred families paid x number of dollars for a share in the coming harvest. This brought back the themes of an economy of gift and an ethic of superabundance, which I had learned from Chadwick. We got the J. C. Penny Golden Rule Award (three times), and Peter John sent me the essay by Paul Ricoeur: “The Golden Rule.” It was that text that interpreted my experience and opened my eyes. The Golden Rule, the stuff of an ethic of reciprocity, quid pro quo, or du ut des, is shattered by Jesus, when he says: “Love your enemies,” and “lend, without expecting anything in return.” It was the economy of gift and the ethic of superabundance in a nutshell. Do you know why? Because it leads to the ecstatic utterances of Paul about how it comes back to you, heaped up, overflowing, pouring out in your lap. The measure you give is the measure you get back. The lack of measure is the good measure.

Then came Ecotopia. I was inspired. I thought I would never hit bottom in despair over the homeless. I thought of the homeless as the symbolic scapegoats of the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society. Their homes had self-destructed and they were the victims out in the cold. As Tillich says in his Selfhelp talk: “…..somebody who doesn’t feel necessary at all, who feels that he or she is a mere burden, is on the edge of total despair.” p. 131. And didn’t Heidegger say that to be homeless is the spiritual fate of modern times–for all of us?


The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program established with homeless labor prompted me to score Santa Cruz as Ecotopia. I even have a Web Page: I took the term from Ernest Callenbach’s novel, where he describes how a region of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, breaks away from the industrial society, takes charge of its own destiny, and invents a survival-oriented “stable-state” way of living which uses technology instead of being used by it.

I was going to turn Santa Cruz into Ecotopia. It would be easy to secede. The geography is ideally suited for the stunt. Close off Highway One, north and south, and Highway l7, coming in over the hill, from San Jose and you’ve got it. Border kiosks would admit you, where you would get your Ecotopia passport, your green consumer card and discounts. Your visit would be scored for you according to your environmenal interests beginning with two featured attractions–the Circle Trail and the Ecology Hall of Fame.

Ecotopia would be ready for the ecotourist of the new millennium.

I started to look to the next millennium as a possible horizon of hope. So I called the Director of the California Conservation Corps and said let’s get back into a cooperative venture. It was twenty years later. He said: “O.K., call Joe Griffin, the District Director.” I did and Joe came to visit and said: “Apply for an Americorps grant and I’ll do your budget and be your fiscal agent.” I said, “O.K.”

I got it! I just signed an Americorps contract for a million dollars for our Homeless Garden Project, giving us 24 positions at ten grand, plus five grand (an education bonus), per recruit, for three years. Gardens are being dug at ten schools in Santa Cruz as we speak.

This should be utopian enough for one lifetime, but I still have a few years left. None of this runs smoothly, let me tell you, community service can often be a royal pain. But one sets one’s course and goes ahead with it. I learned a good lesson from Chadwick about enduring all the vicissitudes of personality conflict and cross purposes, because he was a classic neurasthenic

and subject to quite remarkable temper tantrums, which his training in classic theatre gave him the stops to pull. The lesson was the difference between idiosyncratic display and institutional process. Keep your eye on the prize. Personality displays are like the weather. Take them in stride.

Now for the cold shower. I read Voegelin’s “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation”, Chap. l3, in his Published Essays, Vol. l2, this summer. It was a major whoops. Nothing like subjecting yourself to the most penetrating and unrelenting criticism. So here it is. This is Voegelin’s gloss on utopians of every stripe. I had read his piece on Sir Thomas More, which is dutifully appreciative. He did not release his venom until this one. Listen to the phrases and then I’ll give you a couple of sentences and then the gist.

…threatened in our humanity by the massive social force of activist dreamers…

…liberate us from our imperfections by locking us up in the perfect prison of their phantasy..

…seriously molested by somebody’s Utopian imagination…

…the desire to attract public attention and make a career…

He must imagine himself to be a magician and a sorcerer…

…a diseased consciousness which understands its own deformation as the possession of a magical power to transfigure reality…

This attack is carefully taken into account in Tillich’s analysis of the downside of utopia when he speaks of the negative meaning of utopia–its untruth based on a false image of man, its unfruitfulness and impotence leading to disillusionment. Tillich then says something we should all try to understand, especially if it applies to ourselves, as he says it does.

Speaking of the impotence of utopia leading to disillusionment, one is disturbed in one’s inmost being, having confused what is ambiguously provisional with what is unambiguously ultimate.

“Two consequences arise from this which are both very destructive because of the impotence of utopia. The first is that those who are disillusioned may become fanatics against their own past. This is especially true of those–the intelligentsia above all–who at some time in their life committed themselves to a utopia not as something preliminary but as something ultimate

and then had to learn not only that it was preliminary and ambiguous but also at times unequivocally demonic. This has happened to the intelligentsia in America, and objectively and humanly it is one of the saddest and most problematic experiences of American existence, as I believe it to be of Western existence generally and far beyond. This whole class of men represents today one of the most tragic groups in human society and in a certain respect one of the most dangerous because they inevitably transfer their fanaticism against themselves to everyone who does not share it and whom they therefore take to be a secret friend of those against whom their fanaticism is directed.” “The Political Meaning of Utopia,” Political Expectations, p. l72.

There is a questionable aspect to Tillich’s discussion of utopia and wholeness, the question of a centered self in a self-destructive society, when he says the power of utopia is the power of man in his wholeness. Leaving aside the complication of the doctrine of original sin on the issue of a redemptive wholeness, I will try to pinpoint what I see as a possible contradiction in Tillich’s account and then see if I can work it out. It reminds me of the 3rd use of the law in Lutheran doctrine, of which I have a rather garbled understanding, I am willing to admit. It is mostly rejected by Lutherans as a Calvinist heresy that sneaked in under Melancthon. I define it as the free spontaneous behavior of the redeemed. The imp in impulse is not always a demon. The Greeks had a positive view of this imp, spelling it with an ‘a’–daemon. Socrates called it his guardian who always told him what not to do, a kind of negative check on impulses. Aristotle called it eudaemonism–a state of blessedness.

It turns on Tillich’s discussion of disappointment and disillusionment upon the failure of utopian expectations. But the contradiction of expectations is central to the biblical picture of the Christ as Paradox and Offense. It is what drove the disciples to forsake him and flee when he wa s arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed.

You can imagine Tillich’s disillusionment over the triumph of Hitler as the one to smash his investment in religious socialism and his sense of kairos, the pregnantly ripe time for the New Being to appear in all of its transforming power.

There is a protective measure against the inevitable disillusionment of utopian expectations–the confession of self-delusion as expressed in the Platonic Dialogues as a central feature of Socrates, usually misunderstood as the confession of ignorance where it loses its bite. Delusion is thinking you know when you don’t and ignorance is not knowing something when you could have found out. The confession of self-delusion is the Socratic equivalent of repentance which Luther says is a continuous frame of mind.

In reviewing my own projects, I try to practice this frame of mind in order to keep from the disillusionment. Tillich describes as the price one pays for utopian dreaming. I know it is small potatoes in the larger scheme of things. I always thought I had the propensity for the orotund, inflating that little slope where we started our garden, as the place for replanting the vital root of existence, just what Heidegger said Kant recoiled from and Heidegger himself couldn’t see right under his nose. If only he had been a gardener! I overcame the Kantian recoil from the unknown root when I developed a second career in the herbal industry after I left the university and thought vital roots–medicinal and culinary herbs–were the antidote.. I worked up a cookbook on vital roots as an answer to Heidegger, called Being and Thyme, as yet unpublished.

Reading Voegelin’s essay happened to coincide with a massive failure on my part in the planning of Ecotopia. I organized a Circle Trail event for National Trails Day in June of this year (l987) and I was going to inaugurate the Ecology Hall of Fame. Almost no one came. OK, it was an unusually hot day. The fact of the matter is that people in Santa Cruz don’t want to come out for environmental events anymore. Earth Day 27 a month before, was also a flop. So I folded up my Hall of Fame tent and stole home. So much for my Ecotopian phantasies. The Americorps grant bailed me out. There is nothing like a million dollars to cheer you up. Employing 24 people who are willing to sacrifice a year or more in the name of civic virtue and a moral equivalent of war is still a meaningful undertaking in my view. And a garden in every school by the year 2000 is as good a utopian aim as I can imagine. It is not going to turn around industrial society, by any means, but it is going to make a little dent in the mess, and that’s good enough for me.


Paul Lee: The Quality of Mercy, Platonic Academy Press, l993

Florence the Goose, Platonic Academy Press, l993

George Hunston Williams: Wilderness and Paradise, Harpers, The Radical Reformation, l978

George Prest: The Garden Of Eden, Yale University Press, New Haven, Ct., l984

Robert Pogue Harrison: Forests, The Shadow of Civilization, University of Chicago Press, l992

Armytage: The Rise of the Technocrat, University of Toronto Press, l964

William Alexander McClung: The Architecture of Paradise, Survivals of Eden and Jerusalem, University of California Press, Berkeley, l983

Joseph Rykwert: On Adam’s House in Paradise, The Idea of the Primitive Hut In Architectural History, MIT Press, 1981

The Dancing Column, On Order in Architecture, MIT Press, 1996

George Venturi: The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture, MIT Press, l992

John Onions: Bearers Of Meaning, The Classical Orders in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1988

Paul Holberton: Palladio’s Villas, Life In the Renaissance Countryside, John Murray, London, l990

Wilhem and Marion Pauck: Paul Tillich, His Life and Thought, Harper and Row, l989

Paul Tillich: “The Philosophy of Social Work”, in The Quality of Mercy, by Paul Lee, Platonic Academy Press,1992

Paul Tillich: The Meaning of Health, Introduction by Paul Lee, North Atlantic Press, l981

The Courage To Be, Yale Press, l956

The Spiritual Situation in Our Technical Society, ed. by J. Mark Thomas, Mercer University Press, l988

Paul Ricoeur: “The Golden Rule”

The Symbolism Of Evil, Harpers, l968

Klibansky and Paton, eds., Philosophy and History, Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer, “Et In Arcadia Ego,” by Erwin Panofsky, Peter Smith, l975

Edmund Husserl: The Crisis of European Sciences, Northwestern University Press, l970

Erich Voegelin: Published Essays, 1966-1985, Vol. l2, “Wisdom and the Magic of the Extreme: A Meditation”, Louisiana State University Press, 1990

George Callenbach: Ecotopia, Banyan Tree Books, l975

Hans Jonas: The Phenomenon of Life, University of Chicago Press, l982

Jerzy Kosinski, Being There, l971

Martin Heidegger: Being and Time,

Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics

Parmenides, Indiana University Press, 1992

Erich Heller: The Disinherited Mind, Harcourt Brace, l975

Popper-Lynkeus, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Paul Edwards, ed., Macmillan and Free Press, 1967

Page Smith: Killing the Spirit,

Dissenting Opinions,

Paul Tillich: A Reminiscence

by Paul Lee

Paul Tillich came to lecture at St. Olaf College when I was a senior philosophy student, studying under Howard Hong, the translator of Kierkegaard. It was l953. He gave three lectures on Existentialism and I didn’t understand a word. Neither did my roommates. We argued long and loud into the night over whether it was important that we didn’t get it and whether what was said was important if we didn’t get it. I was certain it was important. Tillich was one of the most impressive figures I had ever heard. I knew I was right so I became a Tillichian. I thought a little humility was in order when confronted by the truth that was over one’s head.

For me, it was a providential encounter. I went on to Luther Theological Seminary, thinking I might pursue a career in the ministry and avoid the Korean war. There was some confusion at St. Olaf between a call to be a Christian and a call to the ministry. The latter seemed to be the way to strike a deal, as if to settle with it. “O.K., God, if I become a Lutheran minister, will You leave me alone?”

My mother’s family was filled with Missouri Synod Lutheran ministers and the name was a famous one because of the Old Testament theologian in Germany, one of the best–Otto Eissfeldt.

They didn’t like Tillich at the seminary and they didn’t teach Luther. They had to bring in a Finn to give special lectures. I came to call it Pseudo-Luther Non-theological Cemetary. The President was a character out of a bad Ingmar Bergman movie–Thaddeus T. Gullickson. He looked like his name.

I broke off and went to Union Theological Seminary the summer of l954, because Tillich was giving courses. It was like swimming in the ocean off the coast of Maine. Les Larson, who had been a student at Union and knew Tillich, took me in to meet him and he gave me a copy of Love, Power, and Justice, and autographed it “To My Defender,” after I told him about representing him to the critics at Luther.

He gave a special series of lectures at Columbia which became Biblical Religion and the Quest For Ultimate Reality, where he discussed the relation of Athens and Jerusalem, biblical revelation and Greek ontology. I thought the hair on the back of my head would never lie down. It was philosophical theology at the summit. We all looked down and breathed the rarefied air and were exhilarated to be in the presence of one who knew.

Who could formulate it like he could? The Great Formulator! It was Tillich’s chief strength–he knew how to put it and you were relieved that you were in the presence of someone who could. There was an adequacy that was almost Latinate. There is nothing like the right word: the adequatio between thought and thing.

Tillich had it down cold. I thrilled at the reformulation of the slogan of the Reformation which Lutherans had got wrong by abbreviating it: justificatioin through faith by grace, had turned into justification by faith, which meant you had to believe something unbelievable and then you were saved. Tillich exposed the distortion with “accept the fact that you are accepted in spite of being unacceptable.” Well, it had a certain ring at the time.

I had to return to Luther because I was caught copying a book report. It was Workman: On Monasticism. It forced me back for another year and then I transferred to Harvard because Tillich was there. I remember the moment, reading the acceptance letter, standing at the back door, off the driveway, in North Milwaukee. I was going to go to Harvard and study with Tillich.

I remember another moment, a few years later, when Bob Kimball said “you lucky bastard,” or something like that, when we were in Tillich’s apartment for a seminar and I said “why?”, and he said “you are going to succeed me as Tillich’s assistant for his last two years and he is going to teach a four semester sequence in Western thought: “The Self-Interpretation of Man” and you get to give every third lecture.”

I thought: “I can do that.”

I also had to read all the papers and give all the grades and I was so dumb, I didn’t think of asking for help. There were six hundred students in the class. The story about throwing papers down a long stairwell and grading accordingly, struck me as a really good idea.

One time Tillich took me by surprise and said: “How come you never ask me to do anything for you?” Like what? Tie my shoes? I didn’t know what to ask for. It was like my youth in Milwaukee and not knowing what to say to a girl. You mean you can just say: “Kiss me!”?

There had been an interlude the year or two before I assisted Paulus. It was my Bonhoeffer period. It was partially liberating and it made it even better to associate with him again and re-connect. I needed a little leverage and a little relief from my discipleship. Bonhoeffer, moreover, gave me the date for what Paulus called the end of the Protestant Era. It ended with Bonhoeffer’s execution.

The Post-Protestant Era would be lived out under the sign of “justified godlessness,” in a world come of age. In spite of Bonhoeffer’s Barthian rejection of Tillich, when he said that the world threw him from it’s saddle in his attempt to understand it, like a previous Paul, from his horse, he was the pre-eminent theologian of a secular Christianity. “Justified Godlessness,” which Eberhard Bethge told me summed up Bonhoeffer’s view, would be a good title for a book on Tillich.

I am envious of the memories of Tom Driver and Durwood Foster, and their uncanny ability to recall the intimacy and detail of knowing the Tillichs, mine seem so fitful and arbitrary now. I remember going in to tell Paulus I was going home to get married and he wished me well. He was more interested in meeting my wife than I could possibly know. The sly fox, the womanizer, escaped me entirely. He was just this absolute epitome of the German professor, in exile, who knew everything and knew how to put it. Everything. As though he had learned it, thought it through, in some former life and then came back to express it on any and every occasion. It was like what they said about Samuel Johnson speaking twice edited prose. In fact, Tillich was as good an example as you could get of Plato’s doctrine of recollection. He had seen the mystery of being on his chariot ride between death and rebirth and had returned to recall it and communicate to everyone who cared.

He would go to sleep in seminars. Everyone would notice. The heavy breathing, the volcanic sighs were always the case, anyhow; then the hands would fall limp, still fingering the signature paper clip fetish, and the head would tilt and he would be in deep slumberland. When it came time to comment he would rouse himself and get right to the point as if reading from cue cards. I always wondered how he could do that. There was something uncanny about it.

There was a time when I thought he was going to fall out of his chair while lecturing. His voice was hypnotic and the class was in a trance. It was an emergency situation. He started to list to the left. I had to ask him a question, interrupt him, just to wake him up, I was so worried he would roll out onto the floor. He was talking about the shock of nonbeing which sounds funny now and I raised my hand and said in a very loud voice: “Professor Tillich, I understand the shock of nonbeing regarding my death, but not regarding my birth, which, once born, is unassailable. There is no shock in terms of the hypothetical possibility that I might not have been born, given the fact of my existence.” Not bad for an emergency, I thought. Tillich mumbled something and revived. I had saved him from a broken neck, although I am still wondering if this existence really is necessary.

I gave a talk about Bonaventure in a seminar on mysticism. He looked perplexed. He grew increasingly agitated. He asked me what I was talking about, which frightened me, because I didn’t know myself. Bonaventure, I said, with my midwest nasal twang. He repeated it to himself a few times, shaking his head in confusion. “Oh, Bone-a-ven-toora!” He lit up. We went on.

I was in seventh heaven during the two year sequence. It was reflected glory like none other. We were applauded after every lecture. Sometimes they stamped their feet. I made Tillich clear to the students and they loved it. Who could blame them for confusing “virtue” for “worldview,”

We got to the bourgeoisie and I read D. H. Lawrence poems about Willy Wet Leg.

He gave an illustrated slide lecture of the great art of the period after each semester and it was as only as he could do it. But he was nervous and ill-tempered and worried about projector malfunction or slides upside down. I think it went without a glitch, but he was in a state and it was when I wished some gelassenheit for him. He needed it.

We were invited to East Hampton and saw his little backyard park where he had planted his trees, he was so proud of. On a stairway, I saw the photo of Hannah on the beach, in her youth, her hair all tousled by the wind, looking like a Brechtian Medusa. She was something else. I remember her Dodge Dart and how pleased she was to drive around and how much she liked the Disney film: A Hundred and One Dalmatians.

We went to see a matinee viewing of Last Year In Marienbad and walked around in the sunshine of Boston Commons afterward and talked about it, while we looked at the swanboats.

We went to Camelot, when it opened in Boston before the Broadway run. The Tillichs were friends of Tanya Holm, the choreographer. We got to go backstage and saw Richard Burton take off his makeup and T. H. White, who had just arrived from England and Robert Goulet and Julie Andrews. We went to a restaurant with Tanya and they reminisced about Berlin.

They came to dinner often and loved being invited. We introduced them to Erik and Joan Erikson, who were mad to meet them. It was an ecstatic evening. They fell into one another’s arms and quoted Heine. We were swept away. I could get a good Rothschild Bordeaux at a wine store in Harvard Square–I think it was a l949. I had a case in the basement.

The last two years he was at Harvard live in my memory like a dream–they were halcyon days. I would go to pick him up before every lecture and we would chat about this and that. I remember giving him Kahn’s Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology, and he was happy to review it and concur with the main points, when he was covering the Presocratics, in the opening lectures of the course. I think it was the best course in the humanities ever given in this country, but I could be partial. It opened up Western culture for me, after having taught in the Harvard General Education program–Hum. 2, “The Epic and the Novel” and “The Epic and Drama”. Tillich filled in the gaps.

His lectures introduced me to the theme of the rise and evolution of rational self-consciousness, from Homer to Socrates. Although he didn’t use that phrase he knew how to chart the course. The subject matter became a life-long pursuit of great fascination and interest for me: the archaic smile, as the period of innocence before the emergence of rational self-consciousness and the subject object split, illustrated on the faces of archaic scuptures. The earliest gropings of thought trying to grasp the meaning of being through great symbolic concepts: water (Thales), air (Anaximines), fire (Heraclitus) and the apeiron (Anaximander).

And then the chariot ride of Parmenides to the vision of Being and that it is and can not not be! The unassailable affirmation of Greek ontology. Xenophanes, the first Greek theologian (although Plato coined the term) and his criticism of the Homeric gods. The hot, the cold, the dry, the moist: the elements and their opposites.

Empedocles on reincarnation and the play of love and strife. Anaxagarous and nous, the concept of mind in all things along with the Heraclitean logos. Democritus and atomism. All names on the rosary of philosophy to be reverently fingered and intoned, preparing the way for Socrates who would embody and fulfill the anticipation, not unlike the Messiah foretold by the Prophets. Only Tillich understood what appeared in the person of Socrates, the existential personification of the Platonic ideal. He was the great Idea whose existence grasped and transformed Plato, to whom he bore witness in the Dialogues, just as the Gospel writers bore witness to Jesus the Christ. With Athens as the birthplace, Reason was born from the forehead of Socrates, just as Athena was born from the forehead of Zeus.

His sermons were the high point. One held one’s breath and strained every nerve to catch every word. It was a form of lieder, as good as Fischer-Dieskau, singing the songs of Goethe, by Schubert. They were perfect existential vignettes–phenomenological exercises, on actuely at-home themes: “waiting,” “salvation,” “acceptance in spite of,” “forgetting and being forgotten,”–every one a jewel of homiletical acumen. I had a small church of Norwegian immigrant seamen families, in East Boston, and did my versions of Tillich sermons every Sunday, much to their complete perplexity.

I remember getting stuck on concepts and not knowing how to find my way through the murk: the actualization of potentialities and the play of possibilities, a persistent one, all the while it was happening, without my noticing; and what was the nature of the Christ before the Incarnation and after the Resurrection; and what about the relation of existence and finitude?

Peter John was always around and writing down every word Tillich said and we became close friends, helping me with my PhD thesis. I never would have done it without him.

Then Tillich went away to Chicago and I dreaded the thought of never seeing him again. I can’t remember the circumstances, but I once attended a seminar he gave with Charles Hartshorne, at Chicago, where Tillich would say something and then Hartshorne would put his head down on the desk and think for a long while, as we all sat there and waited and then he would sit up and respond. He would do that every time Tillich spoke. It was impressive.

I ran into Paulus at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. That might have been the last time. I have had recurrent dreams about him, often as though seeing him for the last time, standing outside of the residential hotel, where they lived, saying goodbye. I haven’t dreamt of him for a long time.

I had a terrible nightmare when I was at Harvard about being transported to a cave in Europe where life could be maintained. Now it can be told! Why be denied the progress of science? You could take up residence there and be hooked up to life-support systems and wait out the advances of science over the next fifty years. I was in the cave and observed the bodies in a comatose state, on slabs, covered with sheets, hooked up to a central machine. I woke up groaning “how horrible, how horrible.”

I told Paulus and he told me of his waking nightmare of sheep grazing under the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, in the 30’s, although Jim Adams remembers it as the Potzdamer Platz. It was an apocalyptic vision he was obsessed with, much to the perplexity of his friends. Then, when the Allies liberated Berlin, a photo appeared on the front page of the New York Times, of sheep grazing under the Brandenburg Gate.

Tillich taught me the phrase–“the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society as a world above the given world of nature”. I have made it into a mantra and the center of my thought, along with the word thymós, which he also gave me, the courage to be, the unreflective striving toward what is noble, the bridge between reason and desire: what a word.

I took it into the herbal industry, where I developed a second career, in the late ’70’s, and exploited the cognates of thymos–the herb thyme (Thymus vulgarus) and the thymus gland, and pioneered the field of herbal immune enhancement. It was a great pleasure to apply the courage to be to herbal health care and immunology. I even opened a restaurant in Santa Cruz in the early ’70’s, called “The Wild Thyme” and served thymus glands (Ris de Veau) as the specialty of the house, all inspired by thymos.

If anything, any word, could sum up Tillich’s thought it would be thymós. He had it. He manifested it. He transmitted it. One had the sense that here was the fount of the cultural tradition, the thymic source, the lost élan, the vital root, opening up with all the fresh invigorating pulse of the substance of a culture transmitted intact. Just what nowadays is known as the tired, excuse me, dead, white, European, male line.

The Harvard course confirmed the attack: “The Self-Interpretation of Man!” And not a single woman was mentioned in the entire two thousand year sweep. No wonder Hannah Arendt called him “old mutton legs.” We didn’t know any better. Harvard was Harvard and Radcliffe women were sort of accommodated and allowed to attend classes. They were lucky to get a grade. Women’s lib, as well as psychedelics, were waiting in the wings. I remember Leary mentioning how he and Alpert saw Tillich at a hotel having breakfast and introduced themselves and told him what was happening now that they had synthesized the mystical experience. Tillich asked me if the whole context of the medieval town where his father was minister and all the formative forces that shaped his religious life could be condensed in a small tab of minute dosage. It was a little rhetorical, but, I conceded, I doubted it.

I went on to teach at M.I.T., at the invitation of Huston Smith. The Institute celebrated its centennial and Tillich was asked to speak, along with Aldous Huxley, and Robert Oppenheimer. His title was: “How Has Science Changed Man’s View Of Himself?” He spoke of the spiritual telos of the ancient and Renaissance periods and the meaningless telos of the modern period under the sway of science–progress for the sake of progress. For what? Don’t ask.

I would have pushed him into discussing whether science was evil, if I had the chance, all over again, showing him the essay with that title by Karl Jaspers, just to convince him it was all right to bring it up. In other words, the responsibility of science for the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society. I would love to show him my notes on that one, including the worry of Fermi about a wayward reaction when he smashed the atom in the squash court in Chicago. Fermi did math for it to calculate the risk–the math for the late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society–there is an equation for it. Compton neglected to tell the Chancellor because he knew he would be asked about the risk and knew that Hutchins would be prompted to call it off if the entire universe was at stake. Compton said he took the responsibility on himself.

He asked me to accompany him to the MIT celebration and I remember sitting with Werner Jaeger, the great scholar of Classical Greece, author of Paideia; it was always like that, the most important figures filing through. I teased Tillich about being a Stoic Emperor, in terms of his lecturing everywhere in the country, a domain, a fiefdom, he relished and encouraged and sustained with indefatigable zeal. He was always buoyed up by his audience and the demand of communicating, taking energy from what was expected of him and the adulation he encountered everywhere.

It was interesting to watch the mail in the office: letters from academics surreptitiously writing to express their appreciation that he knew how to apologize for the Christian message, in a way that meant something to them, although they didn’t want to openly admit it.

Harvard staged a celebration for him, upon his retirement, at the Busch Reisinger Museum. I asked Lotte Lenya to come and sing songs from Mahogonny, but she had a conflict. I gave Tillich the album and he was pleased. He had known Brecht in New York, in the old days.

I think it was the summer of l961, when the Tillichs returned to Germany and had their great reunion with Heidegger. Hannah was especially impressed and compared him to a Zen master. Nothing was said about Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies in those days. His reputation was unsullied and Paulus never brought it up and if it was brought up he would apologize for him, as I heard him do at a talk he gave at the Cooper Union in New York. What most of us around Tillich didn’t know when we were with him at Harvard was that he had delivered 150 or more radio talks to the German nation during the war.  They were beamed in from New York and if you were caught listening to them in Germany you were executed.  I finally obtained a copy after they were published and fell apart while reading them.  They are the most sensitve, tender, probing and profound sermons, addressed to the soul of the German people, anyone could ask for.  They should be required reading for anyone entering a Jewish museum dedicated to the holocaust.  It was certainly one of Tillich’s finest hours, cumulatively, when he poured out his grief and empathy for the German people suffering under the evil that was Hitler.

Hisamatsu came to Harvard, the Zen Buddhist master and had a seminar with Tillich and the discussion was terrific. I remember sitting there completely mystified but enthralled by the look of the man and his bearing. Tillich’s trip to Japan had been a major event for him and he was fascinated by Asian religion, lamenting that the encounter with Asian culture had come too late in his life.

He gave a series of lectures, again at Columbia: The Encounter of Christianity With World Relgions, which I edited for him and did a very good job, but neglected to remind him to mention me in his preface. Oh well.

I wish I could talk to Paulus now and ask him about Dionysius the Areopagite and whether Paul’s reference to the man who was carried into the Third Heaven, where he saw things that no one should dare utter, that God will be all in all, was Dionysius, his convert. I wish I could discuss the apophatic tradition of negative theology. And I would like to ask him what he thought about my Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences and my formulation regarding Existentialism as chief mourner for defeated Vitalism. I would like to show him Gödel’s proof for the existence of God, in the tradition of Leibniz, and ask him what he thought about it and whether it made existence a predicate again, after Kant.

There are three other greats to mention, along with Tillich, as the foremost teachers of the time, as far as I am concerned: Erich Voegelin, Paul Ricoeur, and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. I remember asking Hannah what Paulus thought of Rosenstock-Huessy and she said: “Not everyone can be a genius,” which is very funny. I am grateful for all of them. But Paulus was my doctor vater.

“His fatherly kindness, his compassion,” my wife said, when I asked her what came to mind when she thought about him. When I introduced him to my wife, she told him she was an atheist and he threw up his hands in delight and said it was good because she was still thinking. That won her over forever. She was also impressed by the devotion they displayed toward one another, especially Hannah, doting on him and helping with everything. He proudly showed me the split of champagne they had at night for dinner as a little indulgence. He had to watch his health, having fallen ill with diverticulitis. I went to see him in the hospital and he was deathly ill, swollen, feverish. But he recovered and stepped back into his duties with renewed relish. He was fond of talking about some past illness and staring at the red beam in the ceiling and how the color red sustained him and made him live.

I wondered about his clairvoyance–how he knew so much and seemed to have a special channel that was open only to him and now that I look back, I wonder about the subtext that one only gets a sense of, a hint, now and then, a glimpse, rather like the Greek word for truth–aletheia, unconcealedness, the un-understandable translation of Heidegger’s abstruse interpretation. Occultation, is better. Or palimpsest. Freud spoke of the mystic writing pad as a metaphor for consciousness. The sense that some undercurrent one is unmindful of, but that insinuates itself, a kind of manifest absence, what is it Hamlet refers to–there is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will, or the special providence in the fall of a sparrow. It used to be life in the Spirit; now, it is the hollow reverb in the void. There was a depth once upon a time most of us are now unable to fathom.

Nevertheless, we knew we were in the presence of greatness, that he was one of the most impressive intellectuals of the century, in a direct line from St. Paul, St. Augustine, Luther, Schelling, and Kierkegaard. He carried the tradition. When he recited the fragment from Parmenides, everyone in the class thrilled at the intact transmission from the source. It was carried in his voice and in the substance of his person.

After he left Harvard, an exhibit was mounted at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, of the work of Max Beckmann. I was stunned to see an Expressionist artist version of Tillich’s thought. I mentioned it to Erikson and he told me he had exhibited with Beckmann when he was a young artist in Germany. I was in Erikson’s post-graduate seminar on “History and Life-history,” and was struck by the many self-portraits of Beckmann, as a record of his identity, through the course of his life. I communed with them. I wrote a review of the show for the Harvard Crimson. I took Paul Ricoeur. I went so often I met Perry Rathbone, the Director, and he invited my wife and me to dinner to meet Mrs. Beckmann–Quappi. She invited us to New York and took us to Beckmann’s dealer–Catherine Viviano, who brought out five lithographs from his Hell Series. There they were–expressions of Germany after the lst World War, where Beckmann had been an ambulance driver and suffered a nervous breakdown, just as Tillich had been a chaplain at the front and listened to the screams of leiber gott from the trenches and saw the end of Western culture, as prophesized by Nietzsche, as the death of God.

“Did I want them?”, she asked. “How much?”, I asked back. I knew I could borrow the money from Harvard at l% per annum for “general household expenses”. I looked at my wife and she rolled her eyes. I had already borrowed money from Harvard for a Mark lV Jaguar, so I said: “Sure.”

I had my Tillich icons.

Five great lithographs. Two of them are mundane: a nightclub scene, with people dancing, having a good time; a tavern scene with drunken soldiers singing to a violin, as the exhausted owner’s wife waits for them to leave. It is called: “The Patriotic Song.” the other three seem to be in a set apart: one shows an old couple walking through a crowded Berlin street, carrying a corpse, like a loaf of French bread. I think of the corpse as the decline and fall of Western culture, tucked under the man’s arm, a strained look on his face. Another depicts Beckmann looking at a veteran with his face shot off and pointing to his breast, as if to say, your face is shattered like my soul. The third is prophetic, showing Beckmann in a trance, below a pulpit, where a Hitler figure stands screaming his guts out and a Goebbels figure lurks behind him, like an evil menace. A Jew is answering back. An industrialist stands with his arms folded behind his back, eyeball bulging out. Beckmann’s Aunt Minna is in prayer. A hangman sits at the side, his face hooded. A lamp in the shape of a duncecap is over the Hitler figure’s head. It is called: “Die Ideologue.”

The series was done in l9l9, before Hitler knew he was Hitler.

I can remember, as though yesterday, standing outside his office door in Widener and knocking and waiting until I heard his voice to enter and there he would be sitting in his swivel chair at his desk fingering his paperclip and we would confer before going to class. Then we would walk out into the light of Harvard Yard, over to Emerson, where the floorboards squeaked and it reeked of atmosphere, now gone, thanks to the remodel. Students would pour in. The excitement of hearing Tillich would mount and he would assume his position at the lectern and off we would go with his picking up his place in his little brown notebook where he wrote the phrases that would turn into sentences as he spoke. That was another trick. He composed as he went along, speaking slowly enough to give him time to fill out the thought.

He liked getting questions. Another one of his best traits. He could turn a dumb question into a major insight. One time I asked him a question about something, as we walked over to class and he rolled out an answer that even impressed him and he said: “See what you brought out of me?” I think he enjoyed his talent.

Others radiated with it–James Luther Adams, Wilhelm Pauck, John Dillenberger, immediately come to mind. Others resented it, probably out of envy, like Krister Stendahl, or maybe they just wanted to pour some cold water on the adulation to watch the steam.

When I moved to California, I became great friends with Richard Baker-roshi, the Abbott of Zen Center, in San Francisco. At the High Mountain Throne of the Buddha Ceremony, when he succeeded his teacher, Suzuki-roshi, who was dying of cancer and was so ill we thought he might die during the ceremony, he turned and offered incense to him, and said:

“Walking in Buddha’s gentle rain

Our robes are soaked through.

But on the lotus,

not a drop remains.


When Paulus died, with Hannah by his side, according to her account, he blew his life away in one great gasp and on his forehead a lotus bloomed.


On the Wings of Thymós

by Paul A. Lee

On the Wings of Thymós

The plumage that was Plato’s is indicated by the name given to the group of those who followed Socrates-the fellowship of the swan. Philosophy, according to Socrates, is swan song, with one foot in the grave, meditating on finitude, mortality and having to die. This definition of philosophy based on the shock of non-being is juxtaposed against the imagery of Homer and the post-mortal fate of the eidolon or ‘shadows’ – ‘the after-images of used-up men’-where the dead are nothing because they are pure past. Socrates and Plato have another view of death’s illumination of life: the journey by chariot in the procession of the gods past the vision of being where ultimate concern for the perfect mysteries sustains one through the life to come by virtue of what is glimpsed.

We all want to remember it; deep in our souls this longing precedes our birth. Socrates knew this vision and told stories to illustrate it. Evoking a new dimension of our being through the myth is the purpose of the Socratic theology. It is the high artifice of Plato to sneak this vision into a playful dialogue about ‘disinterested’ love, something only Greeks with a philosophical bent would give panegyrics on, under the sway of empty and vain but wonderfully formalistic oratory. In this sense, the spoken word resounds through Plato even though he signifies the transition from oral to literate-the dialogues were written down! This wrench makes even the gods wince. Hence, as a result of the new literacy, a new theology, contemporaneous with the emergency of philosophical rationality. Old stories, retold by Socrates, with a very clear and long-lived historical intent; like the oracle at Delphi, Socrates reaches out with his voice for thousands of years.

‘On the wings of thymós’ is a good phrase for the emergence of literate consciousness. The transition from the oral transmission of culture to the textual or literate transmission makes Plato the key moment in this breakdown and new point of departure: Socratic consciousness at its finest hour. It is the movement from Homeric thymós to Socratic thymós and the development from thymós as ‘the adrenalin-produced emergency reaction of the sympathetic nervous system to novel situations …’[i]– to thymós as the unreflective striving toward what is noble transmuted into the courage to be-this is the heart of the Socratic theology.

The Phaedrus is as playful and as full of irony as any dialogue in Plato’s authorship. The dialogue begins badly, with the playful Socrates teasing Phaedrus into telling one of the worst scrambles found anywhere. To match the speech of Phaedrus, which is really his bad rendition of the speech of Lysias, Socrates has to cover his head in shame, the proposition to be debated is so fraught with error: It is better not to be in love with the beloved in order to serve the pleasures of the beloved with a so-called ‘disinterested’ intent. Socrates plays along and then realizes he had better offer a recantation and atonement. Love, of all human experiences, is not objective; hence, the theme of the ‘blessings of madness,’ from this failed beginning, as though

the truth could only follow in self-evident clarity after so much incoherent babble, Socrates goes right to the heart of the matter. In dithyrambic excess he tells Phaedrus that this thymós, this desire for the beloved, must strive for what is noble; as thymós is wedded to eros, so vitality to intentionality, or vital drives to moral norms-this is what it is to grow wings.

And so, if the victory be won by the higher elements of mind guiding them into the ordered rule of the philosophical life, their days on earth will be blessed with happiness and concord, for the power of evil in the soul has been subjected, and the power of goodness liberated; they have won self mastery and inward peace. And when life is over, with burdens shed and wings recovered they stand victorious in the first of the three rounds in that truly Olympic struggle; nor can any nobler prize be secured whether by the wisdom that is of man or by the madness that is of god.

This is the taming of thymós (spiritual vitality) and epithymia (lustful desire) for a moral life, rather than a life of self-destruction through the arbitrary willfulness of uninstructed desires. A metaphysical decision in the soul to seek the Good, eventually to stand on its measure, joins thymós to the Golden Mean.

But inside thymós, in the heart of our centered self, a struggle is going on between Eros and Atê. Eros is the part of Thymós eager to ascend to the heights of human aspiration, striving for what is noble. Atê is self-delusion, leading to self-destruction. It is blindness, rage, interiorized aggression. Thymós, in this negative mode, means smoke, anger, wrath, mental pathology. This negative side of thymós is best expressed in the French word resentment. The French tradition of the reflection on sentiment and resentment follows in the path of the Platonic doctrine of thymós. This conflict between Eros and Ate as the inner struggle of thymós, in relation to reason and desire, is the inner dialogue of the soul with itself.

Plato’s dialogues are the greatest expression of this dialogue. It is soul that encompasses our life; we are hedged about from birth to death by soul. Thymós means the heart of soul. Thymós is the vital root of consciousness. A horse representing thymós in the Phaedrus myth becomes the center of consciousness in the Republic. We are grounded in the middle, which is why Plato calls man the in-between being. The Myth of Er at the end of the Republic is a further elaboration of the myth in the Phaedrus. It is another story in the Socratic Theology. The myth of the winged steeds and their charioteer in the Phaedrus is amplified by the Myth of Er in the Republic through an expansion of the reincarnation cycle in the tale of Er. Three intervals between lifetimes are necessary to escape punishment for our crimes, as though three generations are a minimum structure for any historical grasp of life. In this three-fold sequence of consecutive lives, we undergo the most extreme choice. For Plato the supreme choice is philosophical. Plato issues the loudest call to the ranks of philosophy anyone has uttered. He wants us all to become Socratic, like his teacher, and practice the Confession of Ignorance/Delusion and be delivered from the snares of Atê. Plato provides us with it all-the Cave, the Divided Line, the Ring of Gyges, the Helmet of Hermes, and the Shield of Achilles. He supersedes everyone in his effort to get us to strain every nerve in order to glimpse the mysteries in our three-time round of earthly and ephemeral existence. So fraught with existential dramatics is the Greek view of life that without this glimpse, we would not be the supreme spectators that we are; we would forget, we would make the wrong choice, we would fail in the very foundation and substance of our being. In the Phaedrus, we meet the winged steeds of the soul who can distract the Charioteer from glimpsing the vision of Being and the mysteries of the Forms, thereby condemning the soul to commit grave mistakes about the choice of self in the next go-around. It is all based on the Platonic doctrine of thymós, or the vitality of the biologically based root of consciousness. Only here, in this dialogue, it is construed as a steed partial to its unruly neighbor, human desire, the horse of a different color. How do you get your unruly steed to run well with your noble steed in order for your reason to glimpse the Forms when you make your cosmic round? By practicing dying and preparing yourself for the ultimate test. Plato urges us on to participate in this flight from life to life, where, in the interval between lives, we can get a glimpse of the Forms, enter philosophical beatitude and be blessed by the mysteries we behold in the very marrow of ourselves.

[i] Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977. p. 262. 27


Thymos as Biopsychological Metaphor: The Vital Root of Consciousness

by Paul A. Lee

When I started to take an interest in botany and the plant kingdom, a friend introduced me to the botanical writings of Goethe, after Alan Chadwick had made me aware of the Vitalist tradition in horticulture, in particular the biodynamic system developed by Rudolf Steiner. My friend gave me a copy of Agnes Arber’s edition of Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants, which was to open the theme of metamorphoses, of changes, as though the main text for botany were the I Ching. I read Goethe’s essay and did not understand it. I read Rudolf Steiner on Goethe (he was the editor of Goethe’s scientific writings at the Weimar Archive) and did not understand him. But I plugged along. As the pieces began to fall into place, where fragments never became the larger design continued to shift and never knew exactly how to put it until I found the key: Physicalism versus Vitalism![i]

I was aware of the implications of this larger design for the philosophy of science and the theme of the structure of scientific revolutions. Although Thomas Kuhn (1962) the proponent of the theme, could assume the structure of Physicalism as the structure of scientific revolutions and write a purely formalistic account of the revolution, as though the Physicalist camp were all there was, I had picked up the Vitalist thread, the defeated point of view, the refutation of which defined Physicalism. It was a negative definition: you are defined by what you reject. The rejection of Vitalism by Physicalism thus became, for me, a key to our culture.

While I was studying philosophy and theology at Harvard, Paul Tillich introduced me to a theology of culture and prepared the way for my intellectual path. He gave me the definition of industrial society as “a world above the given world of nature,” where I came to see how the “above” was brought about through “artificial synthesis,” as in the isolation of active ingredients and their synthetic counterparts. The role of synthetics in industrial society was comparable to the role of plastics and the emphasis on simulation. All this took on an ersatz odor for me, thanks to the teaching of my German-born theologian. In the tradition of Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling, Tillich (1975) was looking for the means to do philosophy of nature again. He tried, in his Systematic Theology, to work out a philosophy of life (following Nietzsche), but the transmission from Schelling never seemed to find expression. Tillich’s most important paper on Schelling still remains untranslated, although his two early works, expounding Schelling’s theory of guilt and of religious symbolism in antiquity, are now in English.

I began to think of Schelling (one of the most neglected of all the major Western philosophers) as the key to the last century and a half, so much so, that I toyed with the notion of being in some strange relation with him. I thought that to me had fallen the opportunity to discuss the theory of vital roots and their replanting as a new hope for the philosophy of nature especially in this late stage of the self-destructive tendency of our industrial society.

Neo-Vitalism is not a term I should like to live with, but it expresses the resurgence of movements and forces (since 1970 and the Earth Day Celebration) which were thought to be dead and buried after 1828 and the artificial synthesis of urea by Friedrich Wohler, one of the fathers of organic chemistry.

The Physicalist-Vitalist conflict is the deepest conflict in our culture. It is now possible to delineate it because we are now able to grasp its history, thanks to the resurgence of the Vitalist point of view in the form of the environmental and ecology movements. I cling to the notion that the clarity with which we can grasp this past struggle indicates our distance from it, even though we continue to read its truth every day in countless guises.

The theatre of ideas I have called into play is determined by two masks-the Vitalist Smile and the Physicalist Frown: it is the comic and tragic together. Why they are split apart in science, as in drama, I do not know; all I know is the expression on the masks.

These expressions are paradigm features-they define the point of view. From these central masks, countless other masks may be assumed. Actors can even change places, representing now one, now the other point of view. But the fixity and precision of the initial determination remain. The Physicalist and Vitalist shall come to center stage and state their views. In our effort to develop a leading metaphor for consciousness, we shall see that the Vitalist Smile takes us back to “vital roots.”

The Kantian Recoil from Vital Roots

Issac Newton and Goethe are the supreme embodiment of the Physicalist and the Vitalist, even though Newton kept cabbalistic esoterica locked in a trunk (as though his Vitalist side could not come out of the closet) and Goethe carried on his exacting experiments in the development of his theory of color for the express purpose of refuting Newton’s Optics. Everything follows from these two in terms of characterizing the victory of one trend over another. In order to add to the symmetry, we will give Kant to Newton and Schelling to Goethe.

Kant knew what was coming. Perhaps it was Kant whom Goethe had in mind as the figure for Faust. Then the pact with the Devil becomes the sin against the Holy Spirit, otherwise known as the vital root of existence. The quandary over whether existence is a predicate, a technical problem in philosophy which Kant decided in the negative, comes in here. It is the background for the plight of existence in industrial society and the origins of existentialism as the protest against industrial society.

Kant decided against existence as a predicate, and, if we are to follow Heidegger on Kant, this was because of the Kantian recoil from the unknown root of existence. Kant betrayed the existential root. It was the price he had to pay for his “Copernican Revolution” and accommodation of philosophy to the protocols of a physicalistically oriented natural science. From Kant onward, German philosophers tried to find the root again, and failed. The leading theme of German philosophy became the “prison of finitude” as an expression of life in industrial society.

Martin Heidegger inherited this Kantian recoil from “vital roots,” arecoil necessary for the development of industrial society as a world “above” nature and therefore devoid of vital roots. This recoil is the Copernican Revolution in philosophy. Kuhn’s book on the structure of scientific revolution is an effort to make us feel comfortable about the “recoil.” The recoil is the revulsion of the mind over its own unknown root. As Heidegger (1962a) puts it-it is more familiar to us than we are to ourselves:

This fundamental constitution of the essence of man, “rooted” in the transcendental
imagination, is the “unknown” of which Kant must have had an intimation when he spoke of “the root unknown to us”; for the unknown is not that of which we know absolutely nothing but that of which the knowledge makes us uneasy. However, Kant did not carry out the primordial
interpretation of the transcendental imagination; indeed, he did not even make the attempt despite the clear indications he gave us concerning such an analytic . .. Kant recoiled from this unknown root
. (Heidegger, 1962a, pp. 166, 167) It is the flight from our own ground!

Heidegger retired to the Black Forest, in a forester’s hut. with his water spout of pure mountain water dripping into its trough, walking the path back to the vital root. From Goethe’s journey to Italy to Heidegger in his woods, from the journey to the Ur-plant to the path to the vital root, we have the hidden movement of Vitalism in a world determined by the Physicalist victory. This impulse-to find the root again-was shared by Alan Chadwick and myself, when we started the Student Garden Project at the University of California in Santa Cruz. In order to find it, we had to “double dig. ”

The Renewal of the Philosophy of Nature

Double digging is a horticultural technique practiced by Chadwick. It is clearly set forth in John Jeavon’s How to Grow More Vegetables than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine, and Tom Cuthbertson’s Alan Chadwick’s Enchanted Garden.

We would also like to use “double digging” metaphorically. The upper crust is not all there is; like Ahab, we have to go to a little lower layer. This opening of the subsoil, for roots, is the basis for a renewed philosophy of nature, The linkage, for me, has been something like this: Schelling represents the breaking point in the defense against the rise of industrial society. Countless critics and witnesses inveigh against it. One of the most powerful, Simone Weil, who was drawn to work in a Renault factory as a missionary to some heathen tribe, wrote the central meditation on this revolt: The Need for Roots (Weil, 1979).

Schelling is the breaking point because of his turn from Naturphilosophie, and his alliance with Hegel, to existentialism (in his Berlin Lectures of 1841-1842), where the audience seemed to sense that a historic move was being made, initiating a philosophical position for the coming century and a half-so much excitement was there in the packed classroom, with Kierkegaard taking notes.[ii]

This breaking point was to continue until the rejected forces could resummon themselves in trying to put things right, when the “unforeseen” consequences of industrial society would provoke the environmental movement. For historical dating purposes, existentialism plays the role of chief mourner for defeated Vitalism (and Natiirphilosophie) until the Earth Day Celebration in April of 1970. This past decade has seen the groundwork for a renewed philosophy of nature, now that science has actually succeeded in unveiling nature’s mysteries in the DNA code of the double helix and in the structure of the atom. Nature’s mysteries were turned into scientific problems to be solved. The mystery became a secret. Those who penetrate to the secret receive Nobel prizes (the story is begun by Watson, 1968, and told in full by Judson, 1979).

The breaking point, represented in the turn of Schelling, is only shared by those who, so far, assume a minority view in their reaction against the pursuit of science under Physicalist protocols defined by the rejection and elimination of Vitalism.

The environmental and ecology movements are contemporaneous with the penetration to the secret of life. Think of the moment when Francis Crick, in a loud voice in a pub near Cambridge University, announced that he had solved the secret of life. Given the forces that are ranged against them, the ecology and environmental movements have achieved only partial toeholds. Look at the Environmental Studies Program at your local university-they are beleaguered enclaves in the midst of a hostile, science-determined organization of knowledge whose purpose is to train servants of industrial society.

However, all the signs are clear about our being in an advanced stage of the self-destruction of industrial society, as we know it. The economy of the United States is a symptom of this self-destruction. The organized system of industrial society is best expressed on the faces of unemployed blacks in the inner city in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Once having driven through these areas, replicated in every major industrial city in the United States, one never forgets it. It is like escaping from an armed camp.

For this reason, we have tried to elucidate the metaphor-vital roots-as a leading metaphor of consciousness, and we have moved from applying the metaphor in a critique of industrial society to an uncovering of the metaphor in the origins of our culture in ancient Greece. It should be obvious that this metaphor was discovered in the actual development of a university garden project where countless students rediscovered their roots. In this sense, horticulture and agriculture, seen in the light of the ecology movement, are prerequisites for the development of any culture worthy of the name. Industrial society alienates us from this ground and provokes in us the longing for roots. Only in a discussion of the metaphors of consciousness do such considerations take on the meaning they deserve.

The Metaphors: “Vital Roots” and “Thymos” According to Freud, the metaphor for consciousness is the neurone, an electrical charge along a nerve pathway. In order to distinguish the neurones appropriate to consciousness, Freud tried to postulate a qualitative charge in the neurone, but it did not work, and he sent his famous “Project for A Scientific Psychology” off to his cohort-Wilhelm Fliessand never asked for it back. It was found among Fliess’s papers, and came to light only a few decades ago in the publication of the Freud-Fliess correspondence as the Origins of Psychoanalysis (Freud, 1954).

Freud would have done better with a metaphor like “vital root” rather than “neurone,” but his Physicalist training under Ernst Briicke prevented him from using a vitalist metaphor. Why? Because Physicalism in alliance with positivism eschewed terms with a metaphysical ring. Neurone is a nice empirical word; “vital root” is a metaphysical metaphor.

I have been working with the metaphor, as a metaphor for consciousness, ever since teaming up with a man who assumed responsibility for replanting it-Alan Chadwick, sometimes referred to as the world’s greatest living gardener. When we started the Student Garden Project at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1967, I witnessed Alan Chadwick’s Singular devotion to creating a garden, working fifteen to eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, without a break. I had to think of some way of putting it. The formulation appropriate to the phenomenon was to say that Alan Chadwick had been uniquely appointed to replant the vital root of existence. The supposition was that if it could happen somewhere, and it had to happen somewhere in order to prove that it was possible in a world where vital roots were endangered and in jeopardy, then it could happen elsewhere, as has been the case, given the thousands of students who have been trained in the methods and systems devoted to the replanting of the vital root, practiced by Chadwick, the French Intensive and Biodynamic. I came to appreciate that these were more than names for styles of hand-intensive systems of horticulture and agriculture, they were forms for the replanting of what industrial society had uprooted.

In fact, they were new forms for the supplanting of industrial society! We had joined a revolutionary movement which erupted nationally in 1970, on a given weekend, when countless Americans celebrated Earth Day I-April 22, 1970. We were ready for it in our garden in Santa Cruz.

After 1970, prompted by the inspiration of Earth Day, I started to think through what historical forces we were opposing in order to get a clear view of what we were up against. It became a marvelous detective story as I began to unravel the clues. Now that I have it mostly figured out, I can see that it has given me the central metaphor for consciousness in the notion of the “vital roots” of consciousness.

Here is how it goes: the ancient Greek term for the “vital root” is thymos, a Homeric word meaning vitality, courage, or spirit. There is now a fairly extensive philological and philosophical literature on thymos, but no one has fully elucidated its philosophical significance, although there have been a number of good attempts, beginning with Tillich (1952), Ricoeur (1965), and Strasser (1977). A new contribution was added by Jutian Jaynes (1977) in his book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He utilized what was well known to anyone interested in classical philology, namely, the work of Bruno Snell and the linguistic approach to Homeric anthropology through the analysis of the metaphors for consciousness in the Iliad and Odyssey. Snell found that all the words for consciousness were words that referred to organs or quasi-organs-they had a material ring to them that had to be appreciated in order not to read back into them the subsequent linguistic elaborations of the terminology for consciousness. When Homer said “psyche” he meant the breath, consciousness was “breathing” in the sense of “one gasped one’s last,” the literal meaning of consciousness or “psyche.” Consciousness {“psyche”} is only mentioned in reference to death; there is no “psyche” but this “last gasp.” By the time we get to Plato, “psyche” is the name for a structured consciousness with three parts-the rational, the vital, and the appetitive. Plato’s words are nous, thyoas, and epithymia.

So from Homer to Plato we can catch the growing density in the linguistic evolution of rational self-consciousness-from “vital breath” (in the moment of death, as in, “he blew his life away”), to a structured self-consciousness ruled by reason. The carriers of this development are the pre-Socratic philosophers, about twenty of them, who prepared the way to Socrates as if he was what they meant. I like this existential reference. It has been immortalized in the syllogism:

All men are mortal
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

The second line in the syllogism is called an enthymeme, when it is understood, in which case the syllogism would read:

All men are mortal
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

An enthymeme, derived from thymos, is in the middle. In principle, we take it for granted. I have come to develop a whole philosophy out of it. I have moved from thinking of thymos as in the middle to thinking of thymos as “vital root.” I had my metaphor for consciousness.

In order to develop a metaphor for consciousness, it is good practice to go back to Homer, where all the terms are metaphors, because Homeric culture is an oral culture, preliterate, and preconceptual. The Homeric metaphors for consciousness are phrenes, thymos, psyche, and nous, etc. They can be considered protoconcepts, or the metaphorical roots of concepts, in the sense that these metaphors for consciousness, based on organs in the body, become the concepts of Plato with no bodily references.

The key metaphor in Homer is thymos, the most widely used term in the Iliad. Imagine my delight when I began to excavate this central term, rather like Schliemann digging up Troy. Forgotten and buried under the successive layers of language, representing the linguistic evolution of rational self-consciousness, thymos was waiting to be found. I was able to dig down to the vital root of consciousness.

When I saw the book by Jaynes (1977), one day as I walked through a local bookstore, I thought-“oh-oh”-somebody got there before me. I saw from the index a number of entries on thymos. I held my breath.

When I got to his definition of thymos, I exhaled. He had missed it by a step. He calls thymos the adrenalin-based reaction to an emergency situation, which is not bad for defining vitality, but more appropriate to epithymia, or the “lesser thymos,” the region of longing-drives, desires, and appetites, below the region of “spirit.” What step had Jaynes missed? No one in the area of classics had made the obvious connection between the word and the bodily organ, even though Snell had specified the relation between psyche and breath, phrenes and liver, etc. Even Snell had missed the obvious. Thymos is the thymus gland. I had found the vital root of consciousness in the thymus gland.

The thymus, therefore, is what Homer referred to when he used the word thymos. This is the hypothesis for unravelling the mystery of the vital root. Although the gland was formally named by Rufus of Ephesus (c. 100 A.D.), the correlation, in Homeric terms, between thymos and thymus carries through the principle of organs, or quasi-organs, as the basis for words for consciousness.

My speculative faculty was set into play when I went on to make the connection with the herb thyme, also derived from thymos. Now I really had a connection with vital roots, although the thymus, as the center of the immune system, was vital root enough.

The herb grows wild all over Greece, and its highly volatile essential oil makes it one of the great germicidal and antiseptic herbs. Therefore, its vital function. Like the thymus, it is a guardian of vitality in the defense against disease and illness. In this role, thyme has always been associated with courage.

The more this configuration of ideas came into focus, the more I was convinced that I had lucked into a key to the riddle of “vital roots” as the leading metaphor for consciousness where thymos was the root. I knew I had to extend the work of Tillich, Ricoeur, Strasser, and Jaynes into further areas of exploration in order to develop a Thymos Doctrine, drawing, as well, from the work of classical philologists-Snel1, Onions, Havelock, Dodds, and Adkins.

Origin of the Word Thymos

Thymos is a Greek word meaning the raising of the soul, passion, courage, spirit. Its origin should be found in the Indo-European root dheu-to rise in a cloud, as dust, vapor or smoke (relation with breath). In Sanskrit, dhumah (dhumo-) means smoke or vapor, giving in Latin “fumus,” in English “fume,” “fumigate,” “perfume.” There is also the idea of undulation, waving, and ebullition. In Irish, dumhach means foggy. In Sanskrit, dhulih (dhuli) means dust or dusty soil or pollen. In middle Irish, duil means desire, movement of the soul. The root dheu (dheua) has the connotation of “being animated by swift movements,” to swirl or whirl. In Sanskrit, dhutah means shaken. In Greek, thuella means storm, whirlwind; thuein: to sacrifice; thuas: incense for sacrifice; thumas: soul, courage, anger. Some authors think that dheues (dhes) belongs to the same root; it became in Greek, theas: God, and theian: smoke or sulfur. Thua originally denotes a violent movement of air, water, the ground, animals, or men. From the sense of “to well up,” “to boil up,” it went to “to smoke” then “to cause to go up in smoke,” “to sacrifice.” Thumas is “that which is moved and which moves,” “vital force”! The meaning of thumos is quite extensive: desire, impulse, inclination, consideration. Later on, thumas took the meaning of “wrath,” particularly in the New Testament.

The Continuing Struggle between Physicalism and Vitalism

The vital root of consciousness is more than the elucidation of a word, although even that is a prodigious task and beyond any single effort. Tillich’s Courage to Be begins the work in his masterful elucidation of the meaning of thymos in Plato, the Stoics, Spinoza, Nietzsche, etc. It is as though Tillich was able to carry through Kant’s failed attempt at developing the transcendental imagination. As we mentioned, according to Heidegger, something happened to Kant to make him recoil from carrying through his interest in the vital root of consciousness in the constitution of the transcendental imagination.

If the problem is the vital root, then we can understand why metaphysics was abandoned and even rejected by the Physicalist trend in the system of the sciences, as if the best way to deal with a problem one has renounced the language for formulating is to bracket it and hope it goes away, as in the Positivist and Linguistic revision of language for the purpose of excluding such issues as “pseudoproblems.” If Kant intuited this and recoiled from it, if Kant saw what was coming-industrial society-and that philosophy would have to accommodate itself to it, then Kant is part of the problem.

When I found the passage in Heidegger, I thought it was too good to be true. Here was Heidegger (1962a), as though complaining about himself and his inability to carry through the project of Being and Time, Heidegger (1962b) isolating the moment in Kant where the recoil from the unknown root occurred-a recoil he was to inherit. It is a commentary, buried in philosophy, of the uprooting of our modem period as a result of the rise and triumph of industrial society. It is the story of how our “courage to be” was undermined and eroded as a result of losing touch with “vital roots.”

So our metaphor for consciousness is indicative of the deepest perplexity in the depths of our culture. We are all worried to death about the outcome of this revived debate, thought settled in 1828 when Physicalism defeated Vitalism (a view repeated throughout the literature, as though a war had been fought to decide the issue). This assumption reigned supreme for a century and a half. Should you look up any references to Vitalism in the literature, including references to philosophy of life (Nietzsche) and philosophy of nature (Schelling), they will uniformly refer to names of defeated points of view-with existentialism inheriting the defeat and presiding over the last rites.

No one could have predicted the reemergence, historically, of defeated Vitalism in the celebration of Earth Day. It is the historical end of existentialism as chief mourner for defeated Vitalism. Even though the nails may not have given way, the coffin came unglued, and we witnessed the return of a point of view thought dead and buried.

This neo-Vitalist resurgence in the environmental and ecology movements reenjoined the debate. It has lead to the realization of the Thymos as Biopsycltological Metaphor necessity for dismantling industrial society in order to minimize the damage due to its self destruction. What we need now is the amplification of this renewal in a new view of consciousness. For our own point of view, by renewal we mean discovering your thymus gland as the biological basis of your spirit, and we mean discovering the medicinal properties of herbs, as in the herb thyme. These two roots, glandular and herbal, will put you in touch with thymos, the vital root of consciousness. I can sum it up in a parable:

Once upon a time, a famous poet and man of letters, who was also an
accomplished scientist, particularly in botany, dropped out of German society
to take a long walk as though he went in search of something as profound as
the vital root of existence, although he was not able to put his longing into
words, He went south, to Italy, as though in search of cultural roots, mindful
of the danger they were in which he foresaw. Based on his botanical studies,
he was actually in search of his own version of the vital root-what he called
the Ur~plant. He had formulated a theory of plant metamorphosis based on
the relation of leaf to stem. He had envisaged a primal plant exemplifying his
theory, a plant that would be the morphological prototype of all possible plant
development. He wanted to find one.

When he entered the oldest botanical garden in the Western world, in Padua, founded in 1545, he sensed that quest was realized.

When he gazed upon the palm growing in the middle of the garden Chaemerops
humilis-he designated it the Ur-plant.

To commemorate the finding of the Ur-plant in their garden, the Paduans
built a glass case to cover it. They called it “Goethe’s Palm,”

The vital root of existence in the form of the Ur-plant was squirreled away
under glass in the oldest botanical garden in the Western world to wait out the
triumphant rise and self-destructive demise of industrial society as a world
above the given world of nature and therefore devoid of vital roots,

The vital root is alive and well in Padua.

The Pysicalist-Vitalist Conflict in Pschology[iii]

The physicalist-vitalist conflict also pervades the discipline of psychology. On the one hand, we find the “hardheaded” and natural science-inspired approaches in psychology (e.g., physiological psychology, behaviorism, and cognitive psychology), which follow the strictly experimental approach of rigorous scientific causal analysis. This approach seeks to uncover the roots of behavior in the prepersonal terms of physiological and psychological functions, without appeal to the experienced reality of consciousness and personal self-agency. In this view, behavior is a consequence of antecedent reinforcement and situational manipulation circumventing the awareness and choice of the participants; action is the result of the operation of certain information processing loops steered by feedback. The physicalistic-positivistic approach is the serious attempt to simulate man as an assembly of variables and response tendencies with a general information-processing capability of an “artificial” intelligence with emergent properties. The ideal of the Physicalist view is the complete simulation of man, the creation of the android under scientific management and control.

On the other side of the psychological spectrum, there are the “soft” humanistic and existential approaches which insist on the reality of selfhood, self-realization, and self-agency, and which emphasize the importance of personal consciousness, of meaning and values. The activities of each human individual require an “intentional analysis” and interpretational reading, a Uhermeneutics of existence,” rather than a causal analysis. Human reality is preinterpreted reality; people act on the meanings they perceive the situation to have. Action implies choices between alternatives, choices of direction leading into the future and ultimately to the creation of a way of life. The Vitalist emphasis in psychology stresses the reality of embodiment, meaningfulness and intensity of experience. It is thus sympathetic with both the human-potential movement in humanistic psychology and its emphasis on the experience of the body, and transpersonal psychology, which retains an appreciation for man’s vital connectedness with the realities of the spirit, of values, and ultimately with the realm of the Divine. The existential emphasis on authenticity, on the right relationship of the person to others and to his/her world, also represents the Vitalist position of insistence on quality, on will, and on commitment, on the courage to be, the courage to incarnate values.

Methodologically the humanistic and existential approaches emphasize case studies, descriptions of experiences, and personal stories, working directly on one’s involvement and experiences in the sense of a spiritual and psychological praxis. The expression of experience becomes important; the use of personal testimony, of symbols and metaphors, is seen as helping the interpretation and serving as guiding images and is favored over conceptual classification, measurement, and the expression of knowledge as cognitive objects.

Although the natural scientific approach moves in a denotative way, using specified operational definitions, the humanistic-existential approach favors connotative ways, which are suggestive, which invite participation, and which emphasize the plurality of meanings that symbols can carry. Although the physicalist-positivist psychologies aim for mastery and control by a professional scientific elite (e.g., computer diagnostics), the vitalist psychologies seem to favor and further emancipation, self development, and taking matters in one’s own hands. The search for the appropriate metaphor and symbol to live by and the task to embody spiritual insight, wisdom, and knowledge in a viable and responsible assembly of activities and in collaboration with a social ensemble, defines the vitalist task in psychology: to create an optimal way of life together, on Earth, from within the conditions in which we find ourselves. In this day and age, the issues are defined by the limits to technological carrying capacity in a limited earth-resource environment, a historical development that has brought our very rootedness in the land, in our body, and in our spirit (as the source of illumination as to the right way on earth) into question and existential jeopardy.

The journey and account of one person through this complex interdisciplinary terrain of issues and ruling metaphors, and his discovery of a root of renewed existence in “double digging” (the biodynamic French intensive mode of horticulture), in the ecology movement, in the Greek word thymos, in the herb thyme, and in the human thymus gland, offers a Vitalist testimonial and a summons to everyone to become involved with roots again. The story of the journey evokes our personal and collective existence in its unfolding. Thymos is a vital reality and a biopsychological metaphor that may keep us on the right track by calling us to our roots and to the sources of our vitality, to the ground of our life-making.

Cassirer, E. The problem of knowledge. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.
Cuthbertson, T. Alan Chadwick’s enchanted garden. New York: Dutton, 1978.
Freud, S. Letters to Wilhelm Fliess. In M. Bonaparte, A. Freud, & E. Kris (Eds.), Origins of
Psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books, 1954.
Heidegger, M. Kant and the problem of metaphysics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1962. (a)
Heidegger, M. Being and time. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. (b)
Jaynes, J. The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bialmeral mind. Boston:
Houghton-Mifflin, 1977.
leavon, J. How to grow more vegetables than you ever thought possible on less land than you can
imagine. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1979.
Judson, H. The eighth day of creation: The makers of revolution in biology. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1979.
Kuhn, T. H. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
Merz, J. History of European thought in the nineteenth century. Darby, Penna.: Arden Library,
Ricoeur, P. Fallible man. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1965.
Strasser, S. Phenomenology affeeling. Atlantic Highlands, N. J.: Duquesne University Press,
Tillich, P. The courage to be. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952.
Tillich, P. Systematic theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
Watson, J. D. The double helix. New York: New American Library, 1968.
Weil., S. The need for roots. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
Additional Reference
For the best introduction to the botanical origins of modem science, see:
Annytage, W. H. The rise of the technocrats, a social history. Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 1965.

[i] The best introduction to this conflict is E. Cassirers (1950) The Problem of Knawledge, J. Men’s (1978) A History a/European Scientific Thought in the Nineteenth Century, and T. Kuhn’s (1962) The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions

[ii] Kierkegaard’s notes are contained in his Papers and Diaries (an unpublished manuscript
amounting to some 75 pages in Danish). For other references to his attendance at Schel·
ling’s lectures, see the last volume of his papers, translated by Howard and Edna Hong.
Paul Tillich calls these notes the “Ur·text of Existentialism.”

[iii] The remainder of this chapter was written by Rolf von Eckartsberg, and is included with the
author’s permission and approval.-Eds.


Meaning of Health

by Paul A. Lee

The depiction of Hygieia in the mural devoted to medicine at the University of Vienna, by Gustav Klimt, expresses the artistic and cultural background that formed Paul Tillich as a German philosopher and theologian. Vienna was the center for the “fin-desiecle,” as well as the center for many of the prophetic visions and movements of the century to come, expressed in the Viennese novelists and satirists Karl Kraus, Musil, Kafka, Brock, Von Dodderer. Freud discovered psychoanalysis there, when, as a latter-day Heraclitus, he searched for himself, like a deep-sea diver, and began the process of self and other-analysis, which, along with Existentialism and Expressionism, became the form-breaking powers of the 20th century. As the daughter of Asclepias, Hygieia is the bearer of healing power, particularly in her priestess and hieratic pose in Klimt’s rendering. Bearing snakes, the ancient symbol of the convergence of poison and medicine (where dosage determines the difference), Hygieia heralds “the unity of life and death, the interpenetration of instinctual vitality and personal dissolution.” (Schorske). The snakes of Asclepias, wound on the staff, the caduceus, were said to come out at night and lick the wounds of those who came to sleep in the temples in a practice known as “incubation,” where the God would appear in a dream omen announcing the prospects for a cure.

In his comprehensive discussion of Western modes of healing, Tillich mentions how Asclepias vied with the Christ as the preeminent bearer of healing the Great Physician of the ancient world. When I was a young graduate student at Union Theological Seminary, I heard Tillich deliver the Bampton Lectures at Columbia University-Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality, where he overcame the Humpty Dumpty problem in Western religion by putting the two cultures together again in all of their dialectical tension Athens and Jerusalem. While at Union, I discovered the essay–The Relation of Religion and Health and copied it out longhand. As the son of a doctor, I had decided against medicine and for theology and philosophy as a career. Tillich restored to me the lost unity of these two subject matters, as well, by placing the theme of ‘healing’ and the meaning of health in its old cosmic frame, within the context of salvation and its etymological origins. Healing is restored to its religious dignity. Tillich shows this ancient unity of powers and functions before their historical separation. He anticipated the longing for their mutual convergence as currently expressed in the Holistic Health Movement now sweeping the country in all of its varied forms. As a thinker on the boundary line, Tillich was able to negotiate territory neglected by others who remained bound to the confines of their own viewpoints and specialties. He was able to show the deep associations between otherwise seemingly separated fields. Therefore, the current split between industrial medicine and traditional medicine, as practiced worldwide in non-industrial nations, as well as ethnic groups in rural areas everywhere, is an unfortunate consequence of a trend of a century and a half. When biochemistry isolated the active ingredients of natural medicine to synthesize artificially from inorganic sources, biochemistry undermined the botanical foundation of medicine. Tillich’s discussion reviews the long historic development and sets the stage for re-evaluating the contribution of neglected and rejected styles in the healing arts burdened by their association with religion and a vitalist approach to health and disease. In “The Religion of Health and Tillich” sketches out the background for what he carried through in “The Courage to Be.” I have come to call it “The Thymos Doctrine,” the old Homeric word Tillich translated as “The Courage to Be.” When I found out that the word for the herb thyme and for the gland thymus were cognates, thymos became the theme for my life’s work.

In my judgment, Tillich anticipated the development of modern immunology in “The Courage to Be”. Once one follows  through the meaning of ‘thymos’ in the discovery of the thymus and the central role of the thymus in immunology, as well as the classic herb thyme in the rediscovery of the healing properties of herbs and the significance of traditional or herbal medicine worldwide, “The Courage to Be” is seen as an essay in theological and philosophical immunology, a discourse on the vital dynamics of self-affirmation in the face of all that would undo and destroy us, where our constitutional defense is called into play, otherwise known as our immune system. Tillich gives us a spiritual biology of the immune system, where “The Courage to Be” is our thymic vigor. After reading in the field of immunology for the last ten years, it is possible to mount a new argument for the existence of God based on the infinite diversity of antibody response to antigens (anti-body generating). As though to fulfill the vision of Leibnitz that we live in the ‘best of all possible worlds,’ immunology is now discovering that we have the best of all possible immune systems. With his unerring facility for language and theoretical formulation, Tillich picked just the right word for his pursuit of the meaning of health and the relation of religion and health begun here in these two essays as the background for “The Courage to Be.” The Thymos Doctrine is sketched out here in his effort to construct a theoretical model of the human self for the purpose of determining a complex of relations necessary for any discussion of the meaning of health. This model, although the term’ thymos’ is not mentioned, should be read as the theoretical background for the subseql’ent elucidation. To read these two essays as a preparation for “The Courage to Be” provides the student of health with a rich historical and theoretical background. It is appropriate to introduce this material into the current discussion for the sake of supporting the quest for models of wholeness that overcome the bifurcation of the healing arts into technical specialties with everyone lost in their own niche. It is time for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing. To think through the cultural modalities of the healing arts in order to restore the full dimensions of human health is the task we all share in this late stage of the self-destruction of industrial society. Tillich points the way, as he tried to do in everything he thought and wrote, as one of the great fighters against the demonic ‘structures of destruction’ that would destroy life as we know it on this earth, whether through synthetic simulation or radiation and pollution. Healing, again, can become a religious vocation, when the medical arts and sciences join with the priest and the prophet, the curendero and native healer, in the mutual acknowledgement of converging domains, where wholeness is the consequence of a new “planet medicine.” This “planet medicine” is the avowed goal of the World Health Organization.

In 1978, upon the successful completion of the campaign to rid the world of smallpox, Dr. Halfdan Mahler, the Director-General, announced the goal for the year 2000 “Health For All” through the promotion and advancement of traditional medicine worldwide. For someone like myself, a student of Tillich’s, and a spokesman for the medicinal herb renaissance in America, this goal strikes me as the basis for one of the most creative and promising dialogues of the next two decades. When I met a second year Stanford Medical School student a native American Indian who told me about his initiation into the herbal medicine of his tribe, I thought I had encountered the best example of the new ‘cross-fertilization of cultures,’ which the dialogue between traditional, basically herbal, medicine and modern industrial medicine entails. In such figures, we may hope to see the confluence of themes and trends, styles and models of medicine and health, developed in different times and in various climes, brought together, for the benefit of all. In this way, the healing arts and sciences and their history, so richly reviewed here with all of their problems and complexities brought to light, may contribute again to the history of salvation.


A Woman’s Herbal, by Jeannine Parvat, Freestone Collective, 1978. AS C LEP lAS, by Karl Kerenyi, Bollingen Books, Princeton University Press.

FIN-DE-SIECLE, by Carl Schorske, Random House, 1981. HYGIEIA,

IDENTITY AND THE LIFE CYCLE, by Erik Erikson, Psychological Issues 1,1, International Universities Press, New York, 1979

PLANET MEDICINE, by Richard Grossinger, Doubleday Anchor, New York, 1980.

THE BIOLOGY OF ULTIMATE CONCERN, by Theodosius Dobzhansky, New American Library, New York, 1967.

““The Courage to Be””, by Paul Tillich, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1952.

THE DOUBLE FACE OF JANUS and Other Essays in the History of Medicine, by Owsei Temkin, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1978.

THE METAPHORS OF CONSCIOUSNEss, ed. byRonaldS. Valle and Rolf von Eckartsberg, Chap. 25, “Thymos as Biopsychological Metaphor: The Vital Root of Consciousness,” by Paul Lee, Plenum Press, New York, 1981.

“Wholeness and Totality,” in TOTALITARIANISM, C. J. Friedrich, ed., Harvard University Press, 1954.


Dr. Paul Lee on the Radio

Dr. Paul Lee and Nada Miljkovic on UCSC’s KZSC Artist on Art.