Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.

Satan proposed the first pact to Jesus. After forcing him to fast forty days in the desert, he gave him a momentary vision of all the kingdoms on earth. Then he told him: All this is in my power. Yet I am prepared to grant it to you. I ask only one small gesture in return: that you recognize me as your master; if you do this, all is yours. But Jesus replied, I do not want this power, for I wish only to serve God, and his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus thus rejected the pact. His successors, however, accepted it after a while. And from Constantine to Louis XVI, for more than fourteen centuries, they strove to reign over the devil's kingdoms. Somewhat later, a Russian seer claimed that if Jesus returned to earth one day, he would be roundly reproached by the Grand Inquisitor for his rejection: Men are weak, the Inquisitor would have said, faith in God is not enough, God's law is worth more.

The second pact was proposed in the fifteenth century by an emissary of the devil, Mephistopheles, to a proud and ambitious man, a magician, necromancer, and conjuror called Johann (or perhaps Georg) Faust, who had attempted to penetrate the secrets of life and death. Since you are so curious, the devil's emissary said to him, I propose a bargain: You will have access to all knowledge of the world, no mystery will resist you; and you are surely aware that knowledge leads to power. In return, I am not asking you to make a grand declaration of submission: I require only one thing, a little odd, it's true: at the end of twenty-four years (but that is a long time! you might not live to be so old), you will belong entirely to me, body and soul. Unlike Jesus, Faust accepted the terms of the contract. He therefore enjoyed infinite knowledge and garnered unanimous acclaim. But it is said that during the last years of the pact he became disgruntled, lost his interest in secrets, and never left his house; he prayed that the devil would forget him. But the devil does not forget, and the day the contract expired he carried the horrified Faust away, wailing in vain.

The third pact dates from nearly the same era as Faust's, but it has one peculiar feature: its very existence was not revealed at the moment it went into effect. The devil's ruse this time consisted of keeping the other party to the contract, Modern Man, as humanity was then called, in the dark, allowing him to believe that he was gaining new advantages thanks to his own efforts, and that there would be no price to pay. This time, what the devil was offering was not power or knowledge but will. Modern Man would have the possibility of willing freely, of acquiring mastery of his own will and living his life as he wished. The devil hid the price of freedom so that man should develop a taste for it and have no desire to renounce it at a later date—then find himself obliged to clear his debt.

Modern Man—Renaissance Man, Enlightenment Man—took some time to realize the full extent of his possibilities. Some of his representatives asked only for the freedom to organize their affective life to their  own taste. They would have the right to choose a life with the people they cared for rather than following the laws of blood or those of the city, or their parents' attachments. They might also freely choose their place of residence: let will and not chance decide the framework of their lives! Later, other representatives of Modern Man found the pleasure of freedom too sweet to be confined to only personal life. They demanded that reason should be liberated too: that it should no longer be obliged to recognize the authority of tradition transmitted by the memory of men. Tradition could continue to rule in civic matters or in dealings with God, but reason should be free to note the true and the false. Thereafter, the only knowledge declared to be certain was knowledge that had been reached by the natural lights of reason. Thus a purely human science was born, quite unlike the omniscience of Doctor Faust.

Having tasted these two freedoms—the freedom to submit exclusively to his own affections, to his own reason—Modern Man was tempted by a new extension of his will. He had yet to assume the vast domain of his public actions. Only an action performed in freedom, on the strength of his will (this is what he would later call his responsibility), was now declared moral; only the political regime chosen by the will of its subjects—now called "democracy"—was judged legitimate. No domain now escaped the intervention of the will, which could enjoy its freedom in every circumstance. During this time—a good two centuries—the devil did not reveal that one day he would demand his due.

In the course of these two centuries, the conquest of freedom was the business of studious thinkers who confined their arguments to the pages of their books. A change took place in the second half of the eighteenth century, when a few men of action, discontented with the state of the world around them, perused the ideas hidden in these books and decided to let them out. They admired the beautiful new principles discovered by their elders and wanted to live in harmony with them rather than subject them to intellectual reflection. The American Revolution and the French Revolution were accompanied not only (in the first case) by a Declaration of Independence, but also by a Declaration of Autonomy never publicly announced, of adherence to the principle according to which no authority is superior to the will of men: the will of the people, the will of individuals.

Now the devil, judging that Modern Man had swallowed the bait, chose this moment to reveal the pact and announce that it was time to start paying for his past bounty. Even before the end of the eighteenth century, and of course repeatedly since, he has continued to present his bill. He did not wish, however, to appear in person but preferred to inspire several dark prophets, whom he charged with revealing to people the total sum of their debt. If you want to keep your liberty, these prophets said to their contemporaries, you will have to pay a triple price, first by separating yourself from your God, then from your neighbor, and finally from yourself.

No more God: You will have no reason to believe that a being exists above you, an entity whose value would be superior to your own life; you will have no more ideals or values—you will be a "materialist." No more neighbor: other men, beside and no longer above you, will continue to exist but they will no longer matter to you. Your circle will shrink: first to your acquaintances, then to your immediate family, and finally to your self; you will be an "individualist." You will then try to cling to your self, but this too will be threatened by dislocation. You will be swept by currents beyond your control; you will believe you are deciding, choosing, and willing freely, when in truth these subterranean forces will do it for you, and you will lose the advantages that had seemed to justify all those sacrifices. This self will be nothing but an anomalous collection of impulses, an infinite dispersal; you will be an alienated, inauthentic being, no longer deserving to be called a "subject."

 - Tzvetan Todorov, The Imperfect Garden: The Legacy of Humanism

现在才听到Todorov老爷子的死讯好像晚了一点,但还是想沉重悼念一下。最近正好在看一本关于the problem of suffering的书,特别难看,特别枯燥,让人对Todorov倍感怀念。同样是探讨一些挺老生常谈(但至今也没谈出个结论来、在可以预见的未来恐怕也不会有结论)的问题,你看人家写得就很能吸引人读下去(。这样见地和文笔兼具的学者的去世对于读者来说真是个重大损失。

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