Excerpts from H. Arendt, “The Human Condition”, p. 320 ff.
The victory of the animal laborans would never have been complete had not the process of secularization, the modern loss of faith inevitably arising from Cartesian doubt, deprived individual life of its immortality, or at least of the certainty of immortality.
Individual life again became mortal, as mortal as it had been in antiquity, and the world was even less stable, less permanent, and hence less to be relied upon than it had been during the Christian era.
Modern man, when he lost the certainty of a world to come, was thrown back upon himself and not upon this world; far from believing that the world might be potentially immortal, he was not even sure that it was real.
And in so far as he was to assume that it was real in the uncritical and apparently unbothered optimism of a steadily progressing science, he had removed himself from the earth to a much more distant point than any Christian otherworldliness had ever removed him.
Whatever the word “secular” is meant to signify in current usage, historically it cannot possibly be equated with worldliness; modern man at any rate did not gain this world when he lost the other world, and he did not gain life, strictly speaking, either; he was thrust back upon it, thrown into the closed inwardness of introspection, where the highest he could experience were the empty processes of reckoning of the mind, its play with itself.
The only contents left were appetites and desires, the senseless urges of his body which he mistook for passion and which he deemed to be “unreasonable” because he found he could not “reason,” that is, not reckon with them.
The only thing that could now be potentially immortal, as immortal as the body politic in antiquity and as individual life during the Middle Ages, was life itself, that is, the possibly everlasting life process of the species mankind…
Individual life became part of the life process, and to labor, to assure the continuity of one’s own life and the life of his family, was all that was needed.
What was not needed, not necessitated by life’s metabolism with nature, was either superfluous or could be justified only in terms of a peculiarity of human as distinguished from other animal life—so that Milton was considered to have written his Paradise Lost for the same reasons and out of similar urges that compel the silkworm to produce silk.
If we compare the modern world with that of the past, the loss of human experience involved in this development is extraordinarily striking.
It is not only and not even primarily contemplation which has become an entirely meaningless experience. Thought itself, when it became “reckoning with consequences,” became a function of the brain, with the result that electronic instruments are found to fulfill these functions much better than we ever could.
Action was soon and still is almost exclusively understood in terms of making and fabricating, only that making, because of its worldliness and inherent indifference to life, was now regarded as but another form of laboring, a more complicated but not a more mysterious function of the life process…