"More than machinery, we need humanity."
Remember these last words, they are the entire story of man in the past, they will also be his entire story in the future. – Eugene Huzar
Near the beginning of La Fin du Monde par la Science, Eugene Huzar notes that, “We are resigned to not be understood today, certain that a day will come when this book will formulate the opinion of the world.” Such a woebegone sentiment is often found in the works of social critics who anxiously predicted coming calamities, whilst being acutely aware that the world was not prepared to hear their warnings. And Huzar’s warning is captured in the interplay of two sentiments that he returns to repeatedly throughout his book, that: “what has been will be,” and that, “The pride of science, the original sin of the world, which was its downfall in the past, will also be its downfall in the future.” Fitting sentiments for a book whose title translates as The End of the World By Science.
Yet one should recognize several key ideas at work in those short sentences, for they provide the key for decoding Huzar’s fascinating and troubling book. By “the pride of science,” Huzar alludes to the ways in which scientific advances have greatly increased humanity’s power, and the hubris which has expanded in tandem with these achievements. Huzar links this “pride” to an iconoclastic re-reading of the biblical account of “original sin,” such that Huzar sees the eating of the forbidden fruit as a parable for humanity seeking to attain to the power of God. And whereas this original sin had brought about a “downfall in the past,” Huzar believes that it is destined to do so again in the future; indeed, “what has been will be.” Thus, for Huzar, the great myths and religions of antiquity appear to him as the warnings that have been passed down to us from a previous age wherein “the pride of science” also resulted in the downfall of civilization. For Huzar the fact that many religions feature stories wherein beings are brought low for proudly seeking after knowledge, is not a mere coincidence.
Admittedly, this particular concept might not win over many adherents. The notion that there was a techno-scientifically advanced civilization, approximately, five thousand years ago that collapsed into ruin, and that tales like the Garden of Eden and the myth of Prometheus were attempts to warn the future not to repeat the same mistakes, seem rather fanciful. They are reminiscent of stories of Atlantis, fodder for a silly adventure movie, or a late-night “what if?” program – but surely not to be taken seriously. But it would be very unfortunate to dismiss of Huzar’s thinking. At the very least his analysis of myths and religions provides an interesting way to approach those texts, but what makes his work particularly noteworthy is the forthrightness with which he discusses how humanity’s unthinking pursuit of techno-scientific advances would be its downfall. Huzar had great hopes for the ways in which techno-scientific advances could bring the people of the world together, but he likewise feared that advancing too brazenly along this path could bring about calamity. Writing in the midst of industrialization, Huzar looked at the world around himself and worried.
Thus part of the reason why Huzar’s arguments are so significant, is that he was making them in 1855.
Yes, many of Huzar’s broader claims and points will not be new to those who are familiar with the tradition of twentieth and twenty-first century social criticism, or recent commentary on the Anthropocene. But Huzar was “resigned to not be understood” in his day, and that his words appear so intelligible today is a sign that civilization has continued to march along the course to catastrophe about which he had warned. Granted, Huzar is hardly the only early social critic to have warned of the dangers inherent in “the pride of science” in the mid-nineteenth century, and he should be placed alongside his (slightly better known) contemporary George Perkins Marsh – though Huzar’s book was published nearly ten years before Marsh’s Man and Nature. Nevertheless, as Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz note in their, excellent, book The Shock of the Anthropocene, “La Fin du monde par la Science (1855)” is “the first catastrophist philosophy of technology.” And for that reason alone it should be of interest to those who are not scared off by the phrase “catastrophist philosophy of technology.” Or, to put it another way, before Mumford, before Ellul, before Anders – there was Huzar.
Granted, Huzar’s La Fin du monde par la science is not available in English.
Until now, that is.
What follows here, and what will follow in the coming months, is my English language translation of La Fin du monde par la science – after which I hope to embark on a translation of its sequel L’Arbre de la Science. This translation will be broken, initially into four parts: an initial brief introduction along with the introductory sections of the work (that’s what this is), Book One – the Present, Book Two – The Past, and Book Three – The Future, finally I will assemble all four parts into a comprehensive document that will be posted as a pdf with a more significant introductory explanation as well as with more detailed explanatory notes on my translation. I hope to have completed these by the end of 2018.
That being said, lest there be any confusion, I should make it absolutely clear that I am not a professional translator. Let me repeat that, I am not a professional translator. I would, at best, describe myself in this endeavor as a competent amateur propelled by an interest in the subject matter. I first became aware of Huzar thanks to his having been mentioned by Bonneuil and Fressoz and as an aspiring academic who focuses on catastrophist narratives around technology I could not very well neglect “the first catastrophist philosophy of technology.” This translation began as a personal project, but as I devoted more and more hours to it, I increasingly felt compelled to share it. This is not because I think that my translation is perfect, surely it is not, but I hope that this translation will make Huzar’s work more accessible to a broader audience. Nor, should this translation be interpreted as my blanket endorsement of everything that Huzar says. My goal, to state it again, is to make a noteworthy, if largely unknown, work in the history and philosophy of technology more accessible. Insofar as possible I have attempted to maintain Huzar’s style of writing, and any words that are italicized represent his italicizations. And though, at some points, I have needed to break from a purely literal translation for the sake of clarity, I have always sought to keep my translation as close to the original as possible. Nevertheless, let me say it once again, I am not a professional translator, nor is it my ambition to become one. But it is my sincere hope that this translation will be of interest to some.
Huzar was resigned not to be understood in his day, hopefully this translation will allow him to be better understood in our day.
The following translation is based on the third edition of La Fin du monde par la science, published in 1865 by the Librairie de E. Dentu in Paris. It has been determined to be in the public domain. A digitized version of this particular edition has been made available by the Hathi Trust.
The End of the World through Science
by: Eugene Huzar
Goal and division of the book
First of all, we say that the purpose of this book is to tell our readers that what has been, will be, because in our view the past is only the mirror of the future.
In our prologue, we have tried to present our reader with an understanding of the origin of this intuition (what has been will be), it was on the occasion of a scientific experiment made before our eyes during an, unfortunately, famous course. Seeing the infinitely small atoms, these products of science; the invisible, imponderable fluids; the intangible gases, produce terrible unexpected effects; we wondered whether man, by continually exerting his dominance over the energies of nature, would not inevitably bring about, despite himself, the final catastrophe, which causes the last day of the world.
Then, in our introduction, we recommend our readers never lose sight of this, because without it they cannot understand the meaning of this book, the development of the eternal law of the human drama.
After establishing these preliminaries, we divided our work into three books: the Present, the Past, and the Future, they are commented on by the same formula: The pride of science, the original sin of the world, which was its downfall in the past, will also be its downfall in the future. This formula alone answers the three questions posed by philosophers: where am I? where do I come from? where am I going?
In the first section, the Present, we tried to prove that the diffusion of knowledge would be a source of indefinite progress bringing about a certain catastrophe.
In the second section, the Past, we have established based on all religious antiquity, that original sin has no other meaning than the exaggeration of science and force, bringing with it the fall of man, that is to say a universal catastrophe; so, in this book, we will fight with every other theory of original sin, especially those put forth by Jean Reynaud and de Creuzer. We prove that their theories are powerless, in our opinion, to explain the great human drama, and that they are moreover in complete contradiction with the religions of antiquity.
In the third section, the Future, the end of the world, having examined all the ancient theories on this serious subject, and having sought to show that all the religions have announced that the end of the world will inevitably arrive due to the exaggeration of science and power. Now, as we have proved in the first section, the Present, that humanity has progressed indefinitely; in the second section, the Past, that the fall of man had formerly occurred due to the exaltation of science and power, we can conclude today that this rapid progress in our time, this unheard of progress, will one day end in a global catastrophe, resulting from the very exaggeration of the power of science and man. Therefore, what has been will be, because the past for us is only the mirror of the future.
Why this book?
What large spectacle has a more frightening presence than man, science and nature?
How does one not become overwhelmed with admiration and terror by penetrating these enclosures, where, at the will of the man, the elements themselves respond docilely, each
day, to the demonstrations of science? How great is this irresistible power which holds in its hand the energies of the world, and which moderates, directs, and governs them, according to its will! Is not man therefore a god, at least for what he knows, for what he wants, and for what he can do? And if the sphere of human knowledge is always growing, does not the conquest of the world become the heritage of humanity?
This was a subject on which I was seriously reflecting, during a course on the compression of gases, when a horrible noise, that I will never forget, broke my thoughts; blood was flowing in the amphitheater, and heartrending cries were heard from all sides.
The compression apparatus had just burst, and the body of the unfortunate assistant, having been thrown through the space, was nothing more than a hideous and bloody heap.
A cold sweat trickled down my face. I had lived a thousand years in a second.
The end times had appeared to me: Jupiter had just struck down Prometheus.
The law of universal palingenesis was revealed to me; I will formulate it as:
The pride of science, the original sin of the world, which was its downfall in the past, will also be its downfall in the future.
This is the meaning of this book.
Because it is the meaning of original sin.
Many human cycles have, successively, appeared and then disappeared on the planet.
Human cycles will be renewed infinitely in infinite times. The planet has existed for millions of years; our historical cycle is only a second in the history of the world.
Adam, Prometheus, and Brahma are the figures of the cycle that preceded us.
They are the prototypes of a civilization that has arrived at an exaggerated power, an infinite science.
They came to know and to dominate, by their genius, the energies of nature; they enjoyed unlimited freedom and they abused it.
They believed themselves gods and they were only men.
They did not understand that destiny, the cause of total ruin in the world, grew parallel with their power and that the catastrophe that their imprudence prepared without their knowing it would be a direct result of their power. They believed they were embracing the energies of matter, but these forces escaped and pulverized them.
They were angels or rather men, enjoying infinite power, unlimited freedom; but all it took was for them to be mistaken about the relations of the forces of universal harmony for everything to fall into chaos, and Adam, Prometheus, Brahma, all that human cycle, disappeared suddenly under the debris of a civilization they had wanted to raise too high.
The ruin was due to the collapse of the edifice, it covered the world for five thousand years.
The serpent, which figures in all the religions of antiquity and sets the world ablaze after having seduced it, is the symbol of man’s insatiable desire to know everything, to deepen everything, to dominate everything, it is the symbol of exaggeration, of pride, of science and strength that believes because of the knowledge gained, that it can try the impossible, only to fall fatally.
It will be the same for our cycle. Man wants to one day direct and govern the energies of nature, but there will come a time when he will not be their master, they will escape his control when he believes he is clasping them, and our human cycle will disappear like the human cycle that preceded it.
Infinite freedom, the consequence of an exaggerated science, necessarily leads
to infinite fatality.
This is the rational explanation of the myths, of original sin, and of the tree of science, which antiquity had been able to discover by the mere force of intuition, and which it transmitted to us from age to age by tradition; it is also by intuition, that this eternal revelation, of the great catastrophe of man in the future, had been predicted by the prophets.
Oh inner voice, instinctive, prophetic, is it not you I hear exploding these days—when at each great discovery man exclaims in terror:
Where are we going?
Is it not the instinctive cry of the bird that feels the storm coming,
The last song of the swan, precursor of death?
What is life?
The eternal struggle of freedom against fatality, and the final triumph of the brutal forces of nature over human freedom.
That is all of its meaning.
This is the myth of Brahma devouring his toes, the myth of the serpent devouring its tail.
How did the concept of original sin and the fall of man come to our cycle from the last cataclysm?
We will try to make you understand, the story of the human drama: it may be admitted that the cycle of Adam did not disappear entirely, that some of the men who had belonged to that unheard-of civilization were saved, as by a miracle, from the great catastrophe, and that they told some savages, who had escaped, like them, from the general ruin and who had remained complete strangers to that ancient civilization. They told them: that humanity had in the old days enjoyed an almost divine power and freedom, and that, later, priding itself on its science and strength, humanity had fallen victim to its own temerity, unleashing against itself the forces of nature; but as the truth could not be revealed to these coarse me in the form of ordinary language, they employed myths and symbols to make themselves understood and to ensure that their story was retained. Thus the myth of original sin, the tree of science, the forbidden fruit, as an explanation of the human drama, was an unfathomable mystery that could not be explained in a rational way until today, by us.
Or we can allow that the human cycle that appeared on the globe after the last cataclysm, was able to discover the cause of the fall of man solely by the force of intuition, this light of genius.
Indeed, we can remark, this intuition, which is today only a word for many people, will find its formula later when the magnetic fluid, this energy of faith and will, will be better understood.
As for us, it is of little importance, whether this concept of original sin and the fall of man has been discovered by a human tradition, or by the mere force of intuition, at the sight of upset nature or at the appearance of the gigantic ruins of Karnak or any other city.
We have focused in this book on only one thing, to interpret, explain, and formulate, the great fact of original sin, the myth of the tree of science and the forbidden fruit.
Nothing more, nothing less.
If we try to explain the myth of the tree of science and the fall of man, otherwise then we will speak in vain and say nothing. If the myth of the tree of science and the fall of man is not intended to signify an exaggerated civilization, an immense, unheard-of science, like its name indicates, leading to a universal catastrophe, then it does not make any sense (1).
That is why I challenge all of the philosophers, all of the historians, all of the scientists of the world to explain this myth in a more rational manner than the way in which I shall present it in this book.
(1) The space is missing in this small pamphlet, which is only a simple Preface to properly explain my theory of original sin, I refer the reader to my second book (The Tree of Science), which is the continuation and indispensable explanation of it.