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I and Thou

Marten Buber 

The history of the individual and that of the human race, in whatever they may continually part Company, agree at least in this one respect, that they indicate a progressive augmentation of the world of It.

In respect of the history of the race that is called in question; it is appointed out that the successive realms of culture have their beginning in a primitive state, whose color may differ, but whose structure is constant. In conformity with this primitiveness these cultural realms begin with a small world of objects. The life not of the race but of the particular culture would thus correspond to the individual life. But, apart from the apparently isolated realms, through the historical influence of other pre-existing cultures they take over, at a certain stage, the world of It belonging to these cultures. This stage is not reached early, but nevertheless precedes the generation of the heyday. It may take the form of the direct acceptance of what is contemporary, as Greece accepted the Egyptian world; or it may take the form of indirect acceptance of what is past, as western Christianity accepted the Greek world. These cultures, then, enlarge their world of It not merely through their own experience, but also through the absorption of the foreign experience. Only then does a culture, thus grown, fulfill itself in decisive, discovering expansion. (For the present let the paramount contribution made by the perception and acts of the world of Thou be left out of account.)  Hence, in general, the world of objects in every culture is more extensive than that of its predecessor. Despite sundry stoppages and apparent retrogressions the progressive augmentation of the world of It is to be clearly discerned in history. It is beside the point of this conclusion whether the character of finitude or that of so-called infinity, more precisely no finitude, belongs to the world-view" of a culture; though certainly a "finite" world can well contain more parts, things, and processes than an "infinite". It is also to be observed that it is important to compare not merely the extent of natural knowledge, but also that of social differentiation and that of technical achievement. For through both of these the world of objects is enlarged.

The primary relation of man to the world of It is comprised in experiencing, which continually reconstitutes the world, and using, which leads the world to its manifold aim, the sustaining, relieving, and equipping of human life. In proportion to the growing extent of the world of It, ability to experience and use it must also grow. The individual can, to be sure, more and more replace direct with indirect experience, he can "acquire items of knowledge", and he can more and more reduce his using of the world to specialized "utilization"; nevertheless, a continual development of this ability, from generation to generation, cannot be avoided. This is the usual meaning of the talk about a progressive development of the spiritual life. By this talk, guilt of the real sin of speech against the spirit is undoubtedly incurred; for that "spiritual life" is for the most part the obstacle to a life lived in the spirit, and at best the material which, after being mastered and fashioned, is to go to make that life.

It is the obstacle; for the development of the ability to experience and use comes about mostly through the decrease of man's power to enter into relation - the power in virtue of which alone man can live the life of the spirit.


Spirit in its human manifestation is a response of man to his Thou. Man speaks with many tongues, tongues of language, of art, of action; but the spirit is one, the response to the Thou, which appears and addresses him out of the mystery. Spirit is the word. And just as talk in a language may well first take the form of words in the brain of the man, and then sound in his throat, and yet both are merely refractions of the true event, for in actuality speech does not abide in man, but man takes his stand in speech and talks from there; so with every word and every spirit. Spirit is not in the I, but between I and Thou. ,It is not like the blood that circulates in you, but like the air in which you breathe. Man lives in the spirit, if he is able to respond to his Thou. He is able to, if he enters into relation with his whole being. Only in virtue of his power to enter into relation is he able to live in the spirit.

But the destiny of the relational event is here set forth in the most powerful way. The stronger the response the more strongly does it bind up the Thou and banish it to be an object. Only silence before the Thou - silence of all tongues, silent patience in the undivided word that precedes the formed and vocal response -leaves the Thou free, and permits man to take his stand with it in the reserve where the spirit is not manifest, but is. Every response binds up the Thou in the world of It. That is the melancholy of man, and his greatness. For that is how knowledge comes about, a work is achieved, and image and symbol made, in the midst of living beings.

But. that which has been so changed into It, hardened into a thing among things, has had the nature and disposition put into it to change back again and again. This was the meaning in that hour of the spirit when spirit was joined to man and bred the response in him - again and again that which has the status of object must blaze up into presentness and enter the elemental state from which it came, to be looked on and lived in the present by men.

The fulfillment of this nature and disposition is thwarted by the man who has come to terms with the world of It that it is to be experienced and used. For now instead of freeing that which is bound up in that world he suppresses it, instead of looking at it he observes it, instead of accepting it as it is, he turns it to his own account.

Take knowledge: being is disclosed to the man who is engaged in knowing, as he looks at what is over against him. He will, indeed, have to grasp as an object that which he has seen with the force of presence, he will have to compare it with objects, establish it in its order among classes of objects, describe and analyze it objectively. Only as It can it enter the structure of knowledge. But when he saw it, it was no thing among things, no event among events, but exclusively present. Being did not share itself with him in terms of the law that was afterwards elicited from the appearance, but in terms of its very self. When a man thinks a general

thought in this connexion he is merely unraveling the tangled incident; for it was seen in particular form, in what was over against him. Now the incident is included in the It of knowledge which is composed of ideas. He who frees it from that, and looks on it again in the present moment, fulfils the nature of the act of knowledge to be real and effective between men. But knowledge can also be managed in such a way that it is affirmed that "this, then, is how the matter stands, the thing is called this, made in this way, its place is over there"; that which has become It is left as It, experienced and used as It, appropriated for the undertaking to "find one's bearings" in the world, and then to "conquer" it.

So too in art: form is disclosed to the artist as he looks at what is over against him. He banishes it to be a "structure". This "structure" is not in a world of gods, but in this great world of men. It is certainly "there", even if no human eye seeks it out; but it is asleep. The Chinese poet tells how men did not wish to hear the tune he played on his jade flute; then he played it to the gods, 'and they inclined their ears; since then men also listened to the tune: thus he went from the gods to those whom the "structure" cannot dispense with. It longs as in a dream for the meeting with man, that for a timeless moment he may lift the ban and clasp the form. Then he comes on his way, and experiences what there is to be experienced: it is made in this way, or this is expressed in it, or its qualities are such and such, and further, it takes this place in the scheme of things.

It is not as though scientific and aesthetic understanding were not necessary; but they are necessary to man that he may do his work with precision and plunge it in the truth of relation, which is above the understanding and gathers it up in itself.

And, thirdly, there is pure effective action without arbitrary self-will. This is higher than the spirit of knowledge and the spirit of art, for here the mortal bodily man does not need to mix: himself with the more lasting stuff, but himself outlasts it as structure; encircled by the sounding music of his living speech he reaches the starry heaven of the spirit. Here the Thou appeared to the man out of deeper mystery, addressed him even out of the darkness, and he responded with his life. Here the word has from time to time become life, and this life is teaching. This life may have fulfilled the law or broken it; both are continually necessary, that spirit may not die on earth. This life is presented, then, to those who come later, to teach them not what is and must be, but how life is lived in the spirit, face to face with the Thou. That is, it is itself ready on every occasion to become Thou for them, and open up the world of Thou - no; it is not ready: it continually approaches and touches them. But they, having become disinclined and unfitted for the living dealings that would open the world to them, are fully equipped with information. They have pinned the person down in history, and secured his words in the library. They have codified, in exactly the same way, the fulfillment or the breaking of the law. Nor are they niggards with admiration and even idolatry, amply mixed with psychology, as bents modern man. O lonely Face like a star in  the night, o living Finger laid on an unheeding brow, o fainter echoing footstep!


The development of the function of experiencing and using comes mostly through decrease of mans power to enter into relation.

How does this same man, who made spirit into a means of enjoyment for hiself, behave towards the beings that live round about him?

Taking his stand in the shelter of the primary word of separation, which holds off the I and the It from one another, he has divided his life with his fellow-men into two tidily circled-off provinces, one of institutions and the other of feelings the province of It and the province of I.

Institutions are outside, where all sorts of aims are pursued, where a man works, negotiates, bears influence undertakes, concurs, organizes, conducts business, officiates, and preaches. They are the tolerably well-ordered and to some extent harmonious structure, in which, with the manifold help of mens brains and hands the process of affairs is fulfilled.

Feelings are within, where life is lived and man recovers from institutions. Here the spectrum of the emotions dances before the interested glance. Here a mans liking and hate and pleasure are indulged, and his pain if it is not too severe. Here he is at home, and stretches himself out in his rocking-chair.

Institutions are a complicated market-place, feelings a boudoir rich in ever-changing interests.

The boundary line, to be sure, is constantly in danger since the wanton feelings break in at times on the moat objective institutions; but with united goodwill it may be restored.

Most difficult of all is the reliable drawing of the boundary line in the realms of so-called personal life. In marriage, for instance, the line is occasionally not to be fully drawn in any simple way; but in the end it is possible. In the realms of so-called public life it can be perfectly drawn. Let it be considered, for instance, how faultlessly, in the year of the parties and the groups with their "movements" which aimed at being above parties, the heaven-storming sessions on the one hand, and on the other hand business, creeping along the ground (smoothly like a machine or slovenly and organically), are separated from one another.

But the separated It of institutions is an animated clod without soul, and the separated I of feelings an uneasily fluttering soul-bird. Neither of them knows man: institutions know only the specimen, feelings only the "object"; neither knows the person, or mutual life. Neither of them knows the present: even the most up-to-date institutions know only the lifeless past that is over and done with, and even the most lasting feelings know only the flitting moment that has not yet come properly into being. Neither of them has access to real life. Institutions yield no public life and feelings no personal life.

That institutions yield no public life is realized by increasing numbers, realized with increasing distress: this is the starting-point of the seeking need of the age. That feelings yield no personal life is understood only by a few. For the most personal life of all seems to reside in feelings, and if, like the modem man, you have learned to concern yourself wholly with your own feelings, despair at their unreality will not easily instruct you in a better way-for despair is also an interesting feeling.

The men who suffer distress in the realization that institutions yield no public life have hit upon an expedient: institutions must be loosened, or dissolved, or burst asunder, by the feelings themselves; they must be given new life from the feelings, by the introduction into them of the "freedom of feeling". If the mechanical State, say, links together citizens alien to one another in their very being, without establishing, or promoting, a being together, let the State, these men say, be replaced by the community of love; and this community will arise when people, out of free, abundant feeling, approach and wish to live with one another. But it is not so. The true community does not arise through peoples having feelings for one another (though indeed not without it), but through, first, their taking their stand in living mutual relation with a living Centre, and, second, their being in living mutual relation with one another. The second has its source in the first, but is not given when the first alone is given. Living mutual relation includes feelings, but does not originate with them. The community is built up out of living mutual relation, but the builder is the living effective Centre.

Further, institutions of the so-called personal life cannot be given new life by free feeling (though indeed not without it). Marriage, for instance, will never be given new life except by that out of which true marriage always arises, the revealing by two people of the Thou to one another. Out of this a marriage is built up by the Thou that is neither of the Is. This is the metaphysical and metapsychical factor of love to which feelings of love are mere accompaniments. He who wishes to give new life to marriage from another source is not essentially different from him who wishes to abolish it. Both clearly show that they no longer know the vital factor. And indeed, if in all the much discussed erotic philosophy of the age we were to leave out of account everything that involves experience in relation to the I, that is, every situation in which the one is not present to the other, given present status by it, but merely enjoys itself in the other what then would be left?

True public and true personal life are two forms of connection. In that they come into being and endure, feelings (the changing content) and institutions (the constant form) are necessary; but put together they do not create human life: this is done by the third, the central presence of the Thou, or rather, more truly stated, by the central Thou that has been received in the present.


The primary word I-It is not evil as matter is not evil. It is of evil as matter is, which presume to have the quality of present being. If a man lets it have the mastery, the continually growing world of It overruns him and robs him and the ghost within him whisper to one another the confession of their non-salvation.


 -But is the communal life of modern man not then of necessity sunk in the world of It? Can the two compartments of this life, economics and State, with their present extent and completeness of structure, be conceived to rest on any other basis but that of a deliberate renunciation of all "directness", and a resolute rejection of every court of appeal which is "alien", that is, which does not arise from this sphere itself? And if it is the experiencing and using I that rules here, the I that makes use of assets and work done in economics, and strivings and opinions in politics, must we not thank this unlimited mastery for the extensive and solid structure of the great" objective" products in these two circles? Is not, indeed, the productive greatness of the leading statesman and the leading economist bound up with the fact that he looks on the men with whom he has to deal not as bearers of the Thou that cannot be experienced but as centers of work and effort, whose particular capabilities it is his concern to estimate and utilize? Would his world not fall in on him if, instead of adding up He and He and He to make an It, he tried to calculate the sum of Thou and Thou and Thou - which never yields anything but Thou again? Would that not be to exchange formative mastery for fastidious dilettantism, and illuminating reason for cloudy fanaticism? And if we look from the leaders to the led, has not the very development in the nature of modern work and possession destroyed almost every trace of living with what is over against them - of significant relation? It would be absurd to wish to return on this development - and if the absurd did come about, the enormous and nicely balanced apparatus of this civilization, which alone makes life possible for the enormous numbers of men that have grown with it, would simultaneously be destroyed.

- Speechmaker, you speak too late. Just a little time ago you would have been able to believe in your speech, now you no longer can. For, a moment ago, you saw as I did, that the State is no longer led; the stokers still pile in the coal, but the leaders have now only the semblance of control over the madly racing machines. And in this moment, as you speak, you can hear as I. do that the levers of economics are beginning to sound in an unusual way; the masters smile at you with superior assurance, but death is in their hearts. They tell you they suited the apparatus to the circumstances, but you notice that from now on they can only suit themselves to the apparatus - so long, that is to say, as it permits them. Their speakers teach you that economics is entering on the State's inheritance, but you know that there is nothing to inherit except the tyranny of the exuberantly growing It, under which the I, less and less able to master, dreams on that it is the ruler.

The communal life of man can no more than man himself dispense with the world of It, over which the presence of the Thou moves like the spirit upon the face of the waters. Man's will to profit and to be powerful have their natural and proper effect so long as they are linked with, and upheld by, his will to enter into relation. There is no evil impulse till the impulse has been separated from the being; the impulse which is bound up with, and defined by, the being is the living stuff of communal life, that which is detached is its disintegration. Economics, the abode of the will to profit, and State, the abode of the will to be powerful, share in life as long as they share in the spirit. If they abjure spirit they abjure life. Life, to be sure, gives itself time to bring its affairs to a real conclusion, and for a good while men imagine they see a structure moving where for a long time a machine has been whirling. The matter is indeed not to be helped by the introduction of a little directness. The loosening of the structure of economics or of the State cannot compensate for their being no longer under the dominance of the spirit that says Thou: no disturbance on the periphery can serve as substitute for the living relation with the Centre. Structures of man's communal life draw their living quality from the riches of the power to enter into relation, which penetrates their various parts, and obtain their bodily form from the binding up of this power in the spirit, The statesman or the economist who obeys the spirit is no dilettante; he knows well that he cannot, without undoing his work, simply confront, as bearers of the Thou, the men with whom he has to deal. Yet he risks doing it, not plainly and simply but as far as the boundary set for him by the spirit. The spirit sets this for him, and the risk that would have shattered a separated structure succeeds in the structure over which the presence of the Thou broods. He is no fanatic; he serves the truth which, though higher than reason, yet does not repudiate it, but holds it in its lap. He does in communal life precisely what is done in personal life by the man who knows himself incapable of realizing the Thou in its purity, yet daily confirms its truth in the It, in accordance with what is right and fitting for the day, drawing disclosing the boundary line anew each day. So, too, only with spirit, not themselves, as starting-point, are work and possession to be released; only from the presence of spirit can meaning and joy stream into all work, awe and sacrificial power into all possession - filling them not to the brim but sufficiently; only from its presence can everything that is worked and possessed, while remaining in adherence to the world of It, yet be transfigured into what is over against man - into the representation of the Thou. There is no going backwards, but in the very moment of deepest need a hitherto undreamt-of movement forwards and outwards.

It does not matter if the state rules economics or is given its authority by it, so long as both are unchanged. It does matter if the organization of the State becomes freer and that of economics more equitable - but not for the question asked here about the real life; they certainly cannot become free and equitable with themselves as starting-point. It matters most of all if the spirit which says Thou, which responds, remains by life and reality, if that which is still interleaved by spirit in man's communal life is subjected to the State and to economics or is independently effective, and if that of spirit which still persists in man's personal life is re-assimilated into the communal life. If communal life were parceled out into independent realms, one of which is "the spiritual life", this would certainly not be done; that would only mean to give up once and for all to tyranny the provinces that are sunk in the world of It, and to rob the spirit completely of reality. For the spirit is never independently effective in life in itself alone, but in relation to the world: possessing power that permeates the world of It, transforming it.

 The spirit is truly in its own realm" if it can confront the world that is unlocked to it, give itself to this world, and in its relation with it save both itself and the world. The distracted, weakened, degenerated, contradictory spirituality which to-day represents spirit would be able to do this only if it were to reach again the life of spirit which can utter the Thou.


Causality has an unlimited reign in the world of It.

Every physical" event that can be perceived by the senses, but also every psychical" event existing or discovered. in self-experience is necessarily valid as being caused and as causing. Further, events to which a teleological character may be attributed are as parts of the unbroken world of It not excepted from this causality; the continuum to which they belong certainly tolerates a teleology, but only as the reverse side worked into a part of causality, and not impairing its continuity and completeness.

The unlimited reign of causality in the world of It, of fundamental importance for the scientific ordering of nature, does not weigh heavily on man, who is not limited to the world of It, but can continually leave it for the world of relation. Here I and Thou freely confront one another in mutual effect that is neither connected with nor colored by any causality. Here man is assured of the freedom both of his being and of Being. Only he who knows relation and knows about the presence of the Thou is capable of decision. He who decides is free, for he has approached the Face.

The fiery stuff of all my ability to will seethes tremendously, all that I might do circles around me, still without actuality in the world, flung together and seemingly inseparable; alluring glimpses of powers flicker from all the uttermost bounds: the universe is my temptation, and I achieve being in an instant, with both hands plunged. deep in the me, where the single deed is hidden, the deed which aims at me - now is the moment! Already the menace of the abyss is removed, the centreless Many no longer plays in the iridescent sameness of its pretensions; but only two alternatives are set side by side - the other, the vain idea, and the one, the charge laid on me. But now realization begins in me. For it is not decision to do the one and leave the other a lifeless mass, deposited layer upon layer as dross in my soul. But he alone who directs the whole strength of the alternative into the doing of the charge, who lets the abundant passion of what is rejected invade the growth to reality of what is chosen - he alone who "serves God with the evil impulse" makes decision, decides the event. If this is understood, it is also known that this which has been set up, towards which direction is Bet and. decision made, is to be given the name of upright; and if there were a devil it would not be one who decided against God, but one who, in eternity, came to no decision.                                                   .

Causality does not weigh on the man to whom freedom is assured. He knows that his mortal life swings by nature between Thou and It, and he is aware of the significance of this. It suffices him to be able to cross again and again the threshold of the holy place wherein he was not able to remain; the very fact that he must leave it again and again is inwardly bound up for him with the meaning and character of this life. There on the threshold, the response, the spirit, is kindled ever new within him; here, in an unholy and needy country, this spark is to be proved. What is called necessity here cannot frighten him, for he has recognized there true necessity, namely, destiny.

Destiny and freedom are solemnly promised to one another. Only the man who makes freedom real to himself meets destiny. In my discovery of the deed that aims at me - in this movement of my freedom the mystery is revealed to me; but also in failure to fulfill the deed as I intended it to be - in this resistance, too, the mystery is revealed to me. He who forgets all that, is caused and makes decision out of the depths, who rids himself of property and raiment and naked approaches the Face, is a free man, and destiny confronts him as the counterpart of his freedom. It is not his boundary, but his fulfillment; freedom and destiny are linked together in meaning. And in this meaning destiny, with eyes a moment ago so severe now filled with light, looks out like grace itself.

No; causal necessity does not weigh heavily on the man who returns to the world of It bearing this spark. And in times of healthy life trust streams from men of the spirit to all people. To all men indeed, even to the dullest, meeting - the present - has come somehow, naturally, impulsively, dimly: all men have somewhere been aware of the Thou; now the spirit gives them full assurance.

But in times of sickness it comes about that the world of It, no longer penetrated and fructified by the inflowing world of Thou as by living streams: but separated and stagnant, a gigantic ghost of the fens, overpowers man. In coming to terms with a world of objects that no longer assume present being for him he succumbs to this world. Then smooth causality rises up till it is an oppressive, stifling fate.

Every great culture that comprehends nations rests on an original relational incident, on a response to the Thou made at its source, on an act of the being made by the spirit. This act, strengthened by the similarly directed power of succeeding generations, creates in the spirit a special conception of the cosmos; only through this act is cosmos, an apprehended world, a world that is homely and house like, man's dwelling in the world, made possible again and again.. Only now can man, confident in his soul, build again and again, in a special conception of space, dwellings for God and dwellings for men, and fill swaying time with new hymns and songs, and shape the very community of men. But he is free and consequently creative only so long as he possesses, in action and suffering in his own life, that act of the being - so long as he himself enters into relation. If a culture ceases to be centered in the living and continually renewed relational event, then it hardens into the world of It, which the glowing deeds of solitary spirits only spasmodically break through. Thenceforth smooth causality, which before had no power to disturb the spiritual conception of the cosmos, rises up till it is an oppressive, stifling fate. Wise and masterful destiny, that reigned, in harmony with the wealth of meaning in the cosmos, over all causality, has been changed into a demonic spirit adverse to meaning, and has fallen into the power of causality. The very karma that appeared to the forefathers as a charitable dispensation - for what we do in this life raises us up for a future life in higher spheres - is now recognized as tyranny: for the karma of an earlier life of which we are unconscious has shut us in a prison we cannot break in this life. Where hitherto a heaven was established in a law, manifest to the senses, raising its light arch from which the spindle of necessity hangs, the wandering stars now rule in senseless and oppressive might. It was necessary only to give oneself to Dike, the heavenly "way", which means also our way, in order to dwell with free heart in the universal bounds of fate. But now, whatever we do, we are laden with the whole burden of the dead weight of the world, with fate that does not know spirit, The storming desire for salvation is unsatisfied after manifold attempts, till it is stilled by one who learns to escape the cycle of births, or by one who saves the souls, that have fallen to alien powers, into the freedom of the children of God. Such an achievement arises out of a new event of meeting, which is in the course of assuming substantial being-out of a. new response, determining destiny, of a man to his Thou. In the working out of this central act of the being, one culture can be relieved by another that is given up to the influence of this act, but it can also be given new life in itself alone.

The sickness of our age is like that of no other age, and it belongs together with them all. The history of cultures is not a course of aeons in which one runner after another has to traverse gaily and unsuspectingly the same death-track. A nameless way runs through their rise and fall: not a way of progress and development, but a spiral descent through the spiritual underworld; which can also be called an ascent to the innermost, finest, most complicated whirlpool, where there is no advance and no retreat, but only utterly new reversal - the break through. Shall we have to go this way to the end, to trial of the final darkness? Where there is danger, the rescuing force grows too.

The quasi-biological and quasi-historical thought of to-day, however different the aims of each, have worked together to establish a more tenacious and oppressive belief in fate than has ever before existed. The might of karma or of the stars no longer controls inevitably the lot of man; many powers claim the mastery, but rightly considered most of our contemporaries believe in a mixture of them, just as the late Romans believed in a mixture of gods. This is made easier by the nature of the claim. Whether it is the law of life" of a universal struggle in which all must take part or renounce life, or the "law of the soul" which completely builds up the psychical person from innate habitual instincts, or the "social law" of an irresistible social process to which will and consciousness may only be accompaniments, or the "cultural law" of an unchangeably uniform coming and going of historical structures - whatever form it takes, it always means that man is set in the frame of an inescapable happening that he cannot, or can only in his frenzy, resist. Consecration in the mysteries brought freedom from the compulsion of the stars, and brahman-sacrifice with its accompanying knowledge brought freedom from the compulsion of karma: in both salvation was represented. But the composite god tolerates no belief in release. It is considered folly to imagine any freedom; there is only a choice, between resolute, and hopeless rebellious, slavery. And no matter how much is said, in all these laws, of teleological development and organic growth, at the basis of them all lies possession by process, that is by unlimited causality. The dogma of gradual process is the abdication of man before the exuberant world of It. He misuses the name of destiny: destiny is not a dome pressed tightly down on the world of men; no one meets it but he who went out from freedom. But the dogma of process leaves no room for freedom, none for its most real revelation of all, whose calm strength changes the face of the earth - reversal. This dogma does not know the man who through reversal surmounts the universal struggle, tears to pieces the web of habitua1 instincts, raises the class ban, and stirs, rejuvenates, and transforms the stable structures of history. This dogma allows you in its game only the choice to observe the rules or to retire; but the man who is realizing reversal overthrows the pieces. The dogma. is always willing to allow you to fulfill its limitation with your life and " to remain free" in your soul: but the man who is realizing reversal looks on this freedom as the moat ignominious bondage.

The only thing that can become fate for a man is belief in fate; for this suppresses the movement of reversal.

Belief in fate is mistaken from the beginning. All consideration in terms of process is merely an ordering of pure "having become", of the separated world-event, of objectivity as though it were history; the presence of the Thou, the becoming out of solid connexion, is inaccessible to it. It does not know the reality of spirit; its scheme is not valid for spirit. Prediction from objectivity is valid only for the man who does not know presentness. He who is overcome by the world of It is bound to see, in the dogma of immutable process, a truth that clears a way through the exuberant growth; in very truth this dogma enslaves him only the more deeply to the world of It. But the world of Thou is not closed. He who goes out to it with concentrated being and risen power to enter into relation becomes aware of freedom. And to be freed from belief that there is no freedom is indeed to be free.


As power over the incubus is obtained by addressing it with its real name, so the world of It, which a moment ago was stretched in its uncanniness before the puny strength of men, is bound to yield to the man who knows it for what it really is - severance and alienation of that out of whose abundance, when it streams close at hand, every earthly Thou is met, and of that which, though seeming at times great and fearful like the mother-god, yet always had a motherly air.

But how can the man in whose being lurks a ghost, the I emptied of reality, muster the-strength to address the incubus by name? How can the ruined power. in a being to enter into relation be raised again, when an active ghost tramples continually on the ruins? How does a being gather itself together, that is madly and unceasingly hunted in an empty circle by the separated I? How may a man who lives in arbitrary self-will become aware of freedom?

As freedom and destiny, so arbitrary self-will and fate belong together. But freedom and destiny are solemnly promised to one another and linked together in meaning; while arbitrary self-will and fate, soul's specter and world's nightmare, endure one another, living side by side and avoiding one another, without connexion or conflict, in meaninglessness - till in an instant there is confused shock of glance on glance, and confession of  their non-salvation breaks from them. How much eloquent and ingenious spirituality is expended to-day in the effort to avert, or at least to veil, this event!

The free man is he who wills without arbitrary self will. He believes in reality, that is, he believes in the real solidarity of the real twofold entity I and Thou. He believes in destiny, and believes that it stands in need of him. It does not keep him in leading-strings, it awaits him, he must go to it, yet does not know where it is to be found. But he knows that he must go out with his whole being. The matter will not turn out according to his decision; but what is to come will come only when he decides on what he is able to will. He must sacrifice his puny, unfree will, that is controlled by things and instincts, to his grand will, which quits defined for destined being. Then he intervenes no more, but at the same time he does not let things merely happen. He listens to what is emerging from himself, to the course of being in the world; not in order to be supported by it, but in order to bring it to reality as it desires, in its need of him, to be brought - with human spirit and deed, human life and death. I said he believes, but that really means he meets.

The self-willed man does not believe and does not meet. He does not know solidarity of connexion, but only the feverish world outside and his feverish desire to use it. Use needs only to be given an ancient name, and it companies with the gods. When this man says Thou, he means "O my ability to use", and what he terms his destiny is only the equipping and sanctioning of his ability to use. He has in truth no destiny, but only a being that is defined by things and instincts, which he fulfils with the feeling of sovereignty - that is, in the arbitrariness of self-will. He has no grand will, only self-will, which he passes off as real will. He is wholly incapable of sacrifice, even though he may have the word on his lips; you know him by the fact that the word never becomes concrete. He intervenes continually, and that for the purpose of "letting things happen" . Why should destiny, he says to you, not be given a helping hand  Why should the attainable means required by such a purpose not be utilized? He sees the free man, too, in this way; he can see him in no other. But the free man has no purpose here and means there, which he fetches for his purpose: he has only the one thing, his repeated decision to approach his destiny. He has made this decision, and from time to time, at every parting of ways, he will renew it. But he could sooner believe he was not alive than that the decision of his grand will was inadequate and needed to be supported by a means. He believes; he meets. But the unbelieving core in the self-willed man can perceive nothing but unbelief and self-will, establishing of a purpose and devising of a means. Without sacrifice and without grace, without meeting and without presentness, he has as his world a mediated world cluttered with purposes. His world cannot be anything else, and its name is fate. Thus with all his sovereignty he is wholly and inextricably entangled in the unreal. He knows this whenever he turns his thoughts to himself; that is why he directs the best part of his spirituality to averting or at least to veiling his thoughts.

But these thoughts about apostacy, about the I emptied of reality and the real I, thoughts of letting himself sink and take root in the soil called despair by men, soil out of which arise self-destruction and rebirth, would be the beginning of reversal.


Once upon a. time, tells the Brahmana of the hundred paths, gods and demons were at strife. The demons said: "To whom can we bring our offerings?" They set them all in their own mouths. But the gods set the gifts in one another's mouths. Then Prajapati, the primal spirit, gave himself to the gods.


It is understandable that the world of It, given over to itself, that is, not brought into contact with and melted down by the Thou as it comes into being, takes on the alien form of an incubus. But how is it that (as you say) the I of man is emptied of reality? Surely, whether living in or out of relation, the I is assured of itself through its self-consciousness, that strong golden thread on which the many-colored circumstances are strung. If now I say, "I see you", or, "I see the tree", perhaps the seeing is not real in the same way in both, but the I in both is real in the same way.

Let us make trial if this is so. The form of the words proves nothing. If many a spoken Thou indicates fundamentally an It, addressed as Thou only from habit and. obtuseness, and many a spoken It fundamentally a Thou; its presentness remembered as it were remotely with the whole being, so are countless Is only indispensable pronouns, necessary abbreviations for "This man here who is speaking". You speak of self-consciousness? If in the one sentence the Thou of relation is truly meant and in the other the It of an experience, that is, if the I in both is truly meant, is it the same I out of whose self-consciousness both are spoken?

The I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.

The I of the primary word I-It makes its appearance as individuality and becomes conscious of itself as subject (of experiencing and using).

The I of the primary word I-Thou makes its appearance as person and becomes conscious of itself as subjectivity (without a dependent genitive).

Individuality makes its appearance by being differentiated from other individualities.

A person makes his appearance by entering into relation with other persons.

The one is the spiritual form of natural detachment, the other the spiritual form of natural solidarity of connexion.

The aim of self-differentiation is to experience and to use, and the aim of these is "life", that is, dying that asts the span of a man's life.

The aim of relation is relation's own being, that is, contact with the Thou. For through contact with every Thou. we are stirred with a. breath of the Thou, that is eternal life.

He who takes his stand in relation shares in a reality, that is, in a being that neither merely belongs to him nor merely lies outside him. All reality is an activity in which I share without being able to appropriate for myself. Where there is no sharing there is no reality. Where there is self-appropriation there is no reality. The more direct the contact with the Thou, the fuller is the sharing.

The I is real in virtue of its sharing in reality. The fuller its sharing the more real it becomes.

But the I that steps out of the relational event into separation and consciousness of separation, does not lose its reality. Its sharing is preserved in it in a living way. In other words, as is said of the supreme relation and may be used of all, "the seed remains in it" . This is the province of subjectivity in which the I is aware with a single awareness of its solidarity of connexion and of its separation. Genuine subjectivity can only be dynamically understood, as the swinging of the I in its lonely truth. Here, too, is the place where the desire is formed and heightened for ever higher, more unconditioned relation, for the full sharing in being. In subjectivity the spiritual substance of the person matures.

The person becomes conscious of himself as sharing in being, as co-existing, and thus as being. Individuality becomes conscious of itself as being such-and-such and nothing else; The person says, " I am ", the individual says, "I am such-and-such". "Know thyself", means for the person know thyself to have being", for the individual it means "know thy particular kind of being". Individuality in differentiating itself from others is rendered remote from true being.

We do not mean by this that the person in any way "gives up" his special being, his being different only that this being is not his observation-point, but simply there, the necessary and significant conception of being. Individuality, on the other hand, revels in its special being or, rather, mostly in the fiction of its special being which it has made up for itself. For to know itself means basically for it (for the most part) to establish an authoritative apparent self, capable of deceiving it ever more and more fundamentally, and to procure for itself, in looking to and honoring this apparent self, the semblance of knowledge of its own being as it really is. Real knowledge of its being would lead it to self-destruction-or to rebirth.

The person looks on his Self, individuality is concerned with its My-my kind, my race, my creation, my genius.

Individuality neither shares in nor obtains any reality. It differentiates itself from the other, and seeks through experiencing and using to appropriate as much of it as it can. This is its dynamic, self-differentiation and appropriation, each exercised on the It within the unreal. The subject, as it thinks itself to be, may make as much as it likes into its own; in virtue of this it acquires no substance, but remains a functional point, experiencing and using, no more. None of its extensive and manifold defined being and none of its zealous "individuality" can help it to win substance.

There are not two kinds of man, but two poles of humanity.

No man is pure person and no man pure individuality.

None is wholly real, and none wholly unreal. Every man lives in the twofold I. But there are men so defined by person that they may be called persons, and men so defined by individuality that they may be called individuals. True history is decided in the field between these two poles.

The more a man, humanity, is mastered by individuality, the deeper does the I sink into unreality. In such times the person in man and in humanity leads a hidden subterranean and as it were cancelled existence-till it is recalled.


The stronger the I of the primary word I-Thou is in the twofold I, the more personal is the man.

According to his saying of I - according to what he means, when he says I-it can be decided where a man belongs and where his way leads. The word I is the true shibboleth of mankind.

So listen to this word!

How discordant the I of the individual! It may stir great compassion if it comes from lips compressed in the tragedy of concealed self-contradiction. It may rouse horror if it comes chaotically from lips that wildly, heedlessly, unsuspectingly, show forth the contradiction. If it comes idly and glibly it is painful or disagreeable.

He who speaks the separated I, with emphasis on the capital, lays bare the shame of the world-spirit which has been degraded to spirituality.

But how lovely and how fitting the sound of the lively and impressive I of Socrates! It is the I of endless dialogue, and the air of dialogue is wafted around it in all its journeys, before the judges and in the last hour in prison. This I lived continually in the relation with man which is bodied forth in dialogue. It never ceased to believe in the reality of men, and went out to meet them. So it took its stand with them in reality, and reality forsakes it no more. Its very loneliness can never be forsakenness, and if the world of man is silent it hears the voice of the daimonion say Thou.

How lovely and how legitimate the sound of the full I of Goethe! It is the I of pure intercourse with nature; nature gives herself to it and speaks unceasingly with it, revealing her mysteries to it but not betraying her mystery. It believes in her, and says to the rose, "Then thou art it " - then it takes its stand with it in a single reality. So the spirit of the real remains with it when it turns back to itself, the gaze of the sun abides with the blessed eye that considers its own radiance, and the friendship of the elements accompanies the man into the stillness of dying and becoming.

This is the sound through the ages of the "sufficient, true, and pure" saying of the I by those persons who, like Socrates and Goethe, are bound up in relation.

And to anticipate by taking an illustration from the realm of unconditional relation: how powerful, even to being overpowering, and how legitimate, even to being self-evident, is the saying of I by Jesus! For it is the I of unconditional relation in which the man calls his Thou Father in such It way that he himself is simply Son, and nothing else but Son. Whenever he says I he can only mean the I of the holy primary word that has been raised for him into unconditional being. If separation ever touches him, his solidarity of relation is the greater; he speaks to others only out of this solidarity. It is useless to seek to limit this I to a power in itself or this Thou to something dwelling in ourselves, and once again to empty the real, the present relation, of reality. I and Thou.abide; every man can say Thou and is then I, every man can say Father and is then Son: reality abides.


But how if a mans mission require him to know nothing but connexion with his particular Cause, that is, no longer to know any real relation with or present realisation of a Thou -to have everything about him become an It, serving his particular Cause?  What of Napoleon's saying of the I? Is it not legitimate? Is this phenomenon of experiencing and using not a person ?

Indeed the lord of the age manifestly did not know the dimension of the Thou. It has been justly expressed in the words that all being was for him valore. He who indulgently compared with Peter the followers who denied him. after his fall had no one whom he himself could have denied; for he had no one whom he recognized as a being. He was for millions the demonic Thou, the Thou that does not respond, that responds to Thou with It, that does not respond genuinely in the personal sphere but responds only in his own sphere, his particular Cause, with his own deeds. This demonic Thou, to which no one can become Thou, is the elementaIy barrier of history, where the basic word of connexion loses its reality, its character of mutual action. In addition to (act between) person and individual, free and self-willed man, there is this third, towering in times of destiny, fraught with destiny. Towards him everything flames, but his fire is cold. To him a thousand several relations lead, but from him none. He shares in no reality, but in him immeasurable share is taken as though in a reality.

He sees the beings around him, indeed, as machines, capable of various achievements, which must be taken into account and utilized for the Cause. In this way, too, he sees himself - except that he must continually ascertain anew by experiment his power of achievement (whose limits he does not experience): he treats himself, too, as an It.

Thus, then, his saying of I is not a lively impressive, not a full one; but it is all the less a saying (like that of the modern individual) that deceives about these things. He does not speak of himself, but only "with himself as starting-point". The I that he utters and writes is the necessary subject for the sentences of his determinations and arrangements - no more and no less. It has no subjectivity, but it has also no self-consciousness concerned with its defined being, and thus all the more no illusion of the apparent self. "I am the clock, which exists, and does not know itself" - so he himself expressed his destined being, the reality of this phenomenon and the unreality of this I, at the time when he was. hurled from his Cause, and for the first time had, and dared, to speak and think of himself, and to take thought for his I -which now appeared for the first time. The I that appears is not a mere subject, but neither does it move towards subjectivity; freed from its enchantment, but not saved, it expresses itself in the fearful word that is as legitimate as it is illegitimate: "The universe beholds us! In the end it sinks back in mystery.

Who would dare to assert, after such a course and such a fall, that this man understood his tremendous, prodigious mission or that he misunderstood it? It is certain that the age, for which the demoniacal, without present, has become master and model, misunderstands him. It does not know that what rule here are not lust for power and enjoyment of power, but destiny and consummation. It grows enthusiastic over this despotic brow, and has no suspicion of what signs are written across it, like the figures on the face of the clock. It industriously imitates this way of looking on living beings, without understanding its need and its necessity, and exchanges the rigorous attention of this I to the particular business for excited self-consciousness. The word "I" remains the shibboleth of mankind. Napoleon spoke it without power to enter into relation, but he spoke it as the I of a consummation. He who strives to say it as he said it only betrays the desperateness of his own self-contradiction.


What is self-contradiction?

If a man does not represent the a priori of relation in his living with the world, if he does not work out and realize the inborn Thou on what meets it, then it strikes inwards. It develops on the unnatural, impossible object of the I, that is, it develops where there is no place at all for it to develop. Thus confrontation of what is over against him takes place within himself, and this cannot be relation, or presence, or streaming interaction, but only self-contradiction. The man may seek to explain it as a relation, perhaps as a religious relation, in order to wrench himself from the horror of the inner double-ganger; but he is bound to discover again and again the deception in the explanation. Here is the verge of life, flight of an unfulfilled life to the senseless semblance of fulfilment, and its groping in a maze and losing itself ever more profoundly.


At times the man, shuddering at the alienation between the I and the world, comes to reflect that something is to be done. As when in the grave night-hour you lie, racked by waking dream-bulwarks have fallen away and the abyss is screaming - and note amid your torment: there is still life, if only I got through to it - but how, how? ; so is this man in the hours of reflection, shuddering, and aimlessly considering this and that. And perhaps, away in the unloved knowledge of the depths within him, he really knows the direction of reversal, leading through sacrifice. But he spurns this knowledge; "mysticism" cannot resist the sun of electric light. He calls thought, in which he rightly has great confidence, to his aid; it shall make good everything for him again. It is, in truth, the high art of thought to paint a reliable picture of the world that is even worthy of belief. So this man say to his thought, You see this thing stretched out here with the cruel eyes was it not my playfellow once? You know it laughed at me then with this very eyes, and they had good in them then? And you see my wretched I I will confess to you, it is empty, and whatever I do in myself, as a result of experiencing and using, does not fathom its emptiness. Will you make it up between me and it, so that it leaves off and I recover? And thought, ready with its service and its art, paints with its well-known speed one no, two rows of pictures, on the right wall and on the left. On the one there is (or rather, there take place, for the world pictures of thought are reliable cinematography) the universe. The tiny earth plunges from the whirling stars, tiny man from the teeming earth, and now history bears him further through the ages, to rebuild consistently the ant-hill of the cultures which history crushes underfoot. Beneath the row of pictures is written: One and all. On the other wall there takes place the soul. A spinner is spinning the orbits of all stars and the life of all creation and the history of the universe; everything is woven on one thread, and is no longer called stars and creation and universe, but sensations and imaginings, or even experiences, and conditions of the soul. And beneath the row of pictures is written: One and all.

Thenceforth, if ever the man shudders at the alienation, and the world strikes terror in his heart, he looks up (to right or left, just as it may chance) and sees a picture. There he sees that the I is embedded in the world and there is really no I at all so the world can do nothing to the I, and he is put at ease; or he sees that the world is embedded in the I, and that there is really no world at all - so the world can do nothing to the I, and he is put at ease. Another time, if the man shudders at the alienation, and the I strikes terror in his heart, he looks up and sees a picture; which picture he sees does not matter, the empty I is stuffed full with the world or the stream of the world flows over it, and he is put at ease.

But a moment comes, and it is near, when the shuddering man looks up and sees both pictures in a flash together. And a deeper shudder seizes him.

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