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Carl Wilhelm Frölich’s «On Man and his Circumstances»

A Translation of «Über den Menschen und seine Verhältnisse»

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Edward T. Larkin

This book includes both the original German version and, for the first time, an English translation of Carl Wilhelm Frölich’s important essay of 1792, which Georg Foster praised as «one of the rarest creations of our time, the work of a young, right-thinking and sensitive man.» Published anonymously, Frölich’s treatise consists of ten Platonic-like dialogues between Erast and Philemon, the central interlocutor, and four interspersed reflections. In response to Erast’s opening question – «What! I should not educate my children for the state? Does a teacher have a higher, nobler purpose?» – Frölich/Philemon addresses the major concerns of the late eighteenth century from the vantage point of materialist ethics: the path toward happiness, natural and conventional feelings, truth and propriety, human freedom, active and passive education, nature and morality, virtue and justice, legislation and social behavior, reason and religion, and the requirements of a good teacher. Underlying all of these concerns is Frölich’s belief that social circumstances significantly determine individual happiness. If humanity is to become happier, these circumstances must be changed via pupil-oriented education and opposition to private property with its dehumanizing profit system. Frölich represents a unique voice in the conversation on human perfectibility in eighteenth-century German intellectual history.

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Reflection 3

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All of Nature’s drives, even those that are found in the hothouses of artifice and are erroneously counted among them, are sources of happiness as long as the law does not place a lock before their peacefully flowing waters. To thwart these drives is to invite wild debauchery, and, if normal self-indulgence is not possible, the drives have no qualms about destroying their own riverbed. This generally acknowledged truth has clearly not received the attention from our legislators that it deserves. The sex drive, whether it appears in crude, animalistic form or is clothed in the refined garb of Platonic enthusiasm – in order to deceive the prouder intellect – is undoubtedly among the most preferred means to sweeten life; and if the circumstances in the state make it necessary to restrict its expression, at least this much is certain: such an intervention requires the most careful deliberation.

It has long been characteristic of humankind to want to remove the impediments that Nature has placed in its way, so that it can follow its arbitrary, unnatural plan, by labeling something divine; and it does not bode well that this very task has been assigned to the bourgeois police. It is a denigration of the Supreme Being to use the police as a deterrent to frighten off those seeking pleasure just where gentle Nature, as part of its necessary evolution, strives toward fulfillment. The State is to blame that Nature must expend her powers in contradiction of its purposes,...

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