On The Dialectics of Man and Nature
by Prof. Moshe Zuckermann
One of the clearest expressions of the repressive foundation of the human condition (conditio humana) is embodied in the ways human civilization appears in natural surroundings, and, more generally speaking, in man’s control over nature. This problem is one of the key issues of modern thought in its entirety, an issue that reached its most compact and polished formulation in Horkheimer and Adorno’s thesis, “Dialectic of Enlightenment.” Man’s control over nature, it is argued, has always been a necessary condition for the existence of civilization anywhere, civilization itself being essential for the liberation of humankind from the threat of natural disaster and from inexorable dependence upon nature. Biblical myth relates to this in the story of the banishment from the Garden of Eden, banishment from a situation devoid of oppressive control, characterized by the harmonious integration of humankind with nature, to a situation in which the human being becomes lord of the land, but at the price of enslavement to arduous toil: only by the sweat of his brow shall he eat bread. In this matter, the “Dialectic of Enlightenment” converges into a fundamental trans-historical argument having three dimensions: mankind’s possessive mastery of the natural surroundings has been dependent since ancient days upon man’s control of his own inner nature, a control that necessarily brought with it man’s subjugation of his fellow man. It is this inherent connection between human control over nature as the basis of his mastery of self and his domineering control over the Other that reveals oppression as a substantive dimension in the process of civilization, and in so doing reveals the institutions of civilizations to be expressions of the oppression embodied within human practice, and in particular, in the human practice that leaves its mark on nature.