Kamal Youssef El-Hage, a biography on the ridge-line.

A procession of light, and the light cannot be limited by words.

A staggered life from the cradle to the grave, between earth and heaven, between the momentary and the everlasting. How could I limit the light within letters? How could I tell the impossible, writing words in a biography that does not obey words?

But it is with faithfulness… my faithfulness to his lasting memory in history through recalling the evident momentary memory.

The earthly journey started on February 7, 1917, in Marrakech. The first distinctive trait in history is that my father was not born in Lebanon, the country he reasoned, analyzed logically and loved until the end.

In his youth he traveled between Morocco and Egypt. Kamal’s mother, Adele Bechara, is a practicing protestant, a preacher daughter of a preacher, a woman of deep Christian faith, a will of steel and a heart of gold, a sensitive intellectual who anticipated her time by far, a prestigious woman who is content with the little this world has to give and who is adored by her children.

The father, Youssef Boutros El-Hage, is from Chbaniye, the village in Metn full with the most courageous of men. He was one of the pillars of literature, poetry, press… and masonry in the beginning of his life.

He was compared to Ibn Battouta because of his many travels, and was known for the personal friendship he had with King Fouad in Egypt, the Royal Saudi family, and Khaz’al Khan, Prince of Moḥammerah. He published his first newspaper in Paris and followed it by another in Damascus and three in Lebanon.

King of poetry capacities both in classical and colloquial Arabic. He has written leading books on Masonry, Zionism and Communism to uncover all their aspects. He was a one of kind prince of speech who fascinated many audiences in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the Peninsula. His great grandfather, Ghossoub El Hachem, is from Aakoura. Youssef El-Hage used to boast about his Hachemite origin and signed all his poems under the name of Youssef El-Hage El Hachem.

He contributed to the establishment of El Hachem Association, “Hachemite University”, along with his far Hachemite cousins, Amine Nakhle and Youssef Ghossoub. He joined the Daheshism and was known as the first Daheshist before leaving it later on.

Kamal grew within two brilliant minds and two effluent hearts which conflicted with ferocity on all matters except for two: deep marital love and love for Arabic till the point of adoration. No wonder then why the child Kamal’s heart was taken by the Arabic language like his father, and by a deep love for Christ like his mother.

The child Kamal studied calligraphy of all types and graduated under the supervision of Najib El Hawawiny, the calligrapher of King Fouad at the age of twelve. I recently came across a poem of praise dating back to 1928, which was dedicated by my grandfather to the Royal family of Egypt and my father designed all its headlines.

Then I found an elegy dating back to the following year, titled: “Tears of Cedars”, which was dedicated by my grandfather to the spirit of Marshal Foch and all of the verses of which were written by my father with admirable handwriting.

Later on, my father wrote the largest part of his book titles. It is worth noting that his mother and mother both were both good at calligraphy and his mother might be the first female calligrapher.

The life of youth he lived in Chbaniye within the shadows of its magnificent woods in a superb wooden chalet far from the noise of the earth and near the clarity of the sky, ignited his love for nature and beyond it. Here was maybe the birth of the philosopher tirelessly seeking the upper stable matters which appear in the changing matters of this age.

He was born in the mountains and remained in the mountains, a child made out of the rocks of humility, contentment and complete faith, fascinated by the moment of eternity within the splendor of creation.

He pursued his secondary studies at the Jesuit fathers and his university studies at the American University. Edmond Naim, may God have mercy on his soul, was one of his closest classmates at school.

Eghnatios Hazim, His Excellency the Patriarch, was his closest friend in university. Among his teachers, he had a strong relationship with Charles Malek dating back to an old friendship between their parents from the days of Egypt.

The contact between these two great men created sparks which contain both a divergence concerning Bergson and philosophy in Arabic and a harmony in the love of thought and Lebanon.

Kamal learnt how to play on the violin with an encouragement from his parents and a vigorous accompaniment by his mother.

He was a member of the Orchestra of the American University before the creation of an institute for music in Lebanon and a national orchestra.

He was a rare of his kind lover of classical music, passionate about the works of Rahbani and the sounds arcaded between earth and heaven which he found in the opera in Caruso and Callas, and in the east in Feirouz, Oum Kalthoum and Wadih El Safi. How I wish he heard the voice of my wife Fadia; the voice coming from the other far end!

He was short with a strong body structure yet taller than his father Youssef, whose friend, Sheikh Abdullah El Aalaili, joked about once when describing Dahesh and said: “Straighten up and have yourself a height closer to normal height, if our friend, Youssef El-Hage and I were a standard of measure.” His favorite sport was walking. He enjoyed good health all his life with a strong built and for years he walked from his office at the Faculty of Letters, Unesco area, to his house in Mathaf area, on every opportunity.

His first written work in the field of philosophy might be a debate between him and his friend Dr. Karim Aazqoul on the pages of “Jomhour” magazine in 1940, in which he replied to two articles written by Aazqoul in “The tragedy of philosophy” and “its bankruptcy” with another article which defends philosophy as a “first necessity” for every human having as foundation “thought and inspiration”.

He graduated from the American University with a bachelor’s degree in Arabic Literature in 1946, his essay was about Mustafa Sadeq El Rafihi. One year before that, he had accomplished, on a personal initiative, the translation into Arabic of Bergson’s book “Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness” which is the first translation into Arabic of one of Bergson’s writings.

This creative experience tired him a lot because it revealed to him the impossibility of full transfer of the genius from one language to another.

He wrote that such impossibility was a main incentive in launching his philosophical ship with open sails so he gave careful consideration to the dilemma of language and ended up with issuing his first pivotal book, “The Philosophy of Language” in 1956, benefitting from what he acquired and understood philosophically when preparing a doctorate thesis at Sorbonne University.

He discussed this thesis in the late 1949 under the title of “Value of Language for Henry Bergson” after having travelled to Paris on a scholarship for which orientalist Louis Massignon, mediated for him as a reward for the quality of his translation of Bergson’s works into Arabic.

In Paris, where he lived from 1946 until early 1950, his friendship grew deeper with fathers Youhanna Maroun, Michel El Hayek, Rizkallah Makhlouf and the Lebanese missionary Boulos Najm, who was his royal door to the noble message he received.

There he also met Jean-Paul Sartre and Bergson’s daughter who dedicated to him a photo of her father signed by her. During his absence in Paris, his friend, Michel Asmar, created the “Lebanese Symposium” tribune in the autumn of 1946.

The creation of the “Lebanese Symposium” had been preceded by the creation of what was named “The symposium of the twelve” by a group of young intellectuals.

It was a closed symposium constituted of Michel Asmar, Kamal El-Hage, Ahmad Makki, Khalil Ramez Sarkis, Edouard Honein, Rushdi El Maalouf, Fouad Haddad, Sami El Shqifi, Fouad Kenaan, Fadel Said Akl, Karim Aazqoul and Salah El Assir. Indeed, some names have changed in the group (Jamil Jabr, Maurice Sakr, Georges Azzi and others) but the symposium had at all times and deliberately, the same number of members as the disciples of Christ.

Michel Asmar, the motor of both symposia, had met El-Hage after having read an encouraging article on his first book, written by the writer Youssef El-Hage in 1938, and sought to meet the author of the article.

The first meeting was at the senior Hage’s house in the presence of his son, Kamal.

Upon my father’s return to Lebanon early 1950, he taught philosophy at the French Institute of Higher Literature and the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts), for its owner Alexi Boutros.

The Lebanese University and the Holy Spirit University had not been established yet. In the following year, he appeared on the tribune of the “Lebanese Symposium” for the first time in a lecture about the duality of language.

That was also the last time he decided to give a lecture in French. Then, in line with his philosophical conviction, Kamal El-Hage resigned in 1952 from his position at the Institute of Higher Literature because of his refusal to continue teaching philosophy in a language other than Arabic, then he stopped writing in French for the same reasons.

But he carried on teaching philosophy at the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts along with senior colleagues such as Khalil El Jorr, Fouad Afram El Bustani, Abdullah El Aalaili, Said Akl, Maurise Chehab, Anis Freiha, Edmond Rabbat, Najib Sadaqa, Salah Stitiyeh, Rene Habchi, Assad Rustom, Robert Ghanem, Rushdi El Maalouf and Fr. Michel Khalifeh. Among his students at the time were names which will stand out later in the fields of culture, education, law and politics, among which: May Murr, Marie-Ange Abi Saleh – Burnos, Nadia Aoun, Rene Roumi – Rizk, Toufic Touma, Joseph Antoun, Joseph Abou Rizk, Chafiq Saayd, Georges Saadeh, Said Chehab Eddine, Mohammed Ali Makki, Francois Ayyoub, Joseph Abou Jaoude, Maurice Qlimos, Antoine Multaqa, Youssef Habchi El Achkar, Joseph Njeim and many others.

He started teaching at the Holy Spirit University (Kaslik) starting from 1956.

Among his first students, may God give them long age, we mention: Fr. Youssef Mahfouz (currently bishop), Abbot Boulos Neaman, Fr. Touma Mehanna and Fr. Ghostine Azar.

As for the Lebanese University, in which he would spend the best of his academic age, he joined it as a teacher since its establishment in 1951 as the High House of Teachers, before bearing its official name in 1953.

So he is from its first generation, along with Khalil El Jorr, Fouad Afram El Bustani, Ahmad Makki, Jabbour Abdel Nour, Edmond Naim, and fathers Fred Jabr and Gerome Ghaith, and Zahia Qaddoura.

Among his students: Fouad El Turk, Mufid Abou Mrad, Victor El Kik, Mahmoud Hammoud, Mohammed Ali Moussa, William El Khazen, Ahmed Hatoum, Nassif Nassar, Ghassan Khaled, Boutros Habib, Habib El Sharouq, Ruba Saba, Elham Mansour, Moussa Wehbe, Ali Ghosn, Mahdi Fadlallah, Hanna El Shaaer, Rafiq Ghanem, Rawad Torbey and Elias El-Hage.

And the list goes on and on. My father would be president of the Philosophy section at the Lebanese University from 1957 until 1974 and dean of its Faculty of Literature by proxy between 1969 and 1971.

The year 1953 was a crossroads in his life, as he was appointed in that year as president of the Cultural Affairs Department at the Ministry of Culture and became the first president of what would be called later on the “Ministry of Culture”.

In addition, he met the writer Ms. Maguy El Achkar, graduate of the Lebanese Academy and relative of the political thinker, Assad El Achkar, and married her.

Then the first stage of his profuse philosophical production started. He inaugurated it in 1954 with the book “Introduction to the philosophy of Rene Descartes”, then he published another book on two parts about the philosophy of Bergson during the same year.

In 1956 he collected together a series of previous lectures in the first part of the book titled “Philosophies” (فلسفيات) before publishing, months after, during the same year, his pivotal book “The Philosophy of Language” which launched his wide philosophical fame, and prompted Dar El Nahar, the publisher of its second edition in 1967, under the title of “In the Philosophy of Language”, to present the book using these words: “Since the “Signs of Inimitability” and “Secrets of Rhetoric” for Imam Abdul Qaher El Jarjani (who died in 471 H), there was no book in the Arabic language which discussed the dilemma of language in its philosophical tools like the book of Dr. Kamal Youssef El-Hage…

It is certain that the book “In the Philosophy of Language” is considered the strongest philosophical defense made by a Lebanese thinker concerning the Arabic language… It appeared like a rule for the revival of a philosophical movement having the Arabic language as its sole mold.”

According to knowledgeable persons, the book “The Philosophy of Language” is of the finest creations of Kamal El-Hage.

It is the cornerstone of what we can call philosophically, the first “Kamhagian” era, as Hage’s major philosophical frames stand out successively: The Philosophy of the Nation and Nationalism (1957), Equality of Essence and Existence (1958), Arab Nation (1959), Lebanese Nationalism (1961), Philosophy of the National Charter (1961).

This era ends in 1961 with the issuance of his second pivotal book: “Constructive Sectarianism or the Philosophy of the National Pact”.

The concept of Lebanese philosophy is absent in this era, although it has a slight existence in a lecture for El-Hage about the philosopher Amine El Rihani in 1963 where he was a pioneer in unveiling the philosophical dimensions of Amine’s works.

This period also witnessed the birth of “The Monday Symposium” which is a vibrant cultural forum, a substitute for the Lebanese symposium as it used to meet in its offices.

Its members are: Michel Asmar, Kamal El-Hage, Khalil Hawi, Hicham Nachabeh, Nour Salman, Jamil Jabr, Ahmad Makki, Leila Baalbaki, Edwick Chiboub, Sami El Shqifi, Joseph Abou Jaoude, Suhail Idris and Georges Chami. God flooded on those golden days from the age of Lebanon the culture!

The period between 1961 and 1966 was “crossing a desert” for Kamal El-Hage, as Michel Asmar considers anxiously in a letter addressed to Kamal, in which he says: “Since 1961, he stopped going to every public book demonstration, and I sat with him at the time of sunset in the summer of 1965.” Michel Asmar was wrong. His friend Kamal did not stop public writing in that period even if his works were relatively scarce.

He gave six lectures in addition to his translation of Descartes’s “reflections” into Arabic.

The fourth of these lectures, “Philosophical Justification of Lebanese Nationalism” (1963), was truly exceptional.

El-Hage draws in it for the first time a new line in his intellectual life, nay in Lebanon’s intellectual life. It is the line of “Lebanese philosophy”.

The other non-intellectual exceptional part in this stage is accepting to teach at a non-university campus, the “Apotres” Institute, which also welcomed his four sons… All for the sake of his friendship with the President of the Institute, the late Fr. Boulos Najm.

When Kamal El-Hage replied to Michel Asmar’s concern with a clarification letter, he was inaugurating his second era in his philosophical course. This very important letter was titled “To guard the truth” (1966).

It is a great exposition from Kamal El-Hage of the stages of formation of his philosophy and its following aims.

Whoever wishes to catch the head of the thread to enter his wide and deep world should start from here.

In the second “Kamhagian” era, in addition to the old titles, some new stages emerge: The Human Being in His Three Dimensions (1966), the Danger of Zionism (1967), Christ Master for History (1968).

We entered a very delicate stage of Lebanon’s history a bit before the Nakba of June 6, 1967.

The dogmatic bout in the land of cedars was at its highest level. With different nationalities fighting over it divided into two categories: The passeism category and the humanitarian rightful category.

The first one wants to resurrect a “geographized past” as El-Hage says, for example from Euphrates to the Nile (Zionism), from the ocean to the Gulf (Arab), or the Fertile Crescent (Syrian). The second is based on the political entity focused on human rights, free will of the people and the sovereign and independent State with all its conditions on the inside and the outside.

This is the Lebanese nationalism as Kamal El-Hage took it.

In this era also, it is the start of the Maronite Kamal El-Hage, “the righteous son of Bkerki”, and the thinker who powerfully combines between logic and faith.

The strong relationship started with the head of Bkerki, Patriarch Mar Boulos Boutros El Meouchy, the day His Beatitude read a lecture by El-Hage in early 1967 in defense of the patriarchal edifice following a tensed debate, the main parties of which were Kamal El-Hage and Sabeh Boulos Hmeidan, the pen name of Assad El Ashkar.

The title of the lecture was: “Bkerki rock of deliverance”. Since then a unique friendship started between my father and the Patriarch, a friendship I have found none like in terms of its depth and solidity between a layman and the head of his church.

The Patriarch of “White Arabism” asked for my father’s opinion in each and every matter related to the life of the church and Lebanon; he used to call him “Paul Claudel of the East”.

Moreover, the Grand Mufti of the Republic at the time, Sheikh Hassan Khaled, found none better than the Maronite Kamal El-Hage to charge him with replying to the letter of “Criticism of Religious Thought” of the Syrian thinker, Sadeq Jalal El Aathem, which provoked a large reaction among the religious circles at that time and was withdrawn from circulation in the market.

On all major intellectual fronts, Kamal El-Hage was the main fighter and sometimes the sole fighter. In the conflict on the nationalism and perpetuity of Lebanon, Kamal El-Hage’s voice of roaring grew louder than all chirping. In his defense of the Arabic language, its renovation and innovation in it, he was the captain of the ship.

In the fixation of conventional spirit among the two wings of Lebanon to ensure the creation of the Lebanese State and the political entity, he was the head of the spear. In attacking the Zionist doctrine and undermining its arguments, no boldness outgrew that of Kamal El-Hage.

In the dismantlement of Marxism and addressing of contemporary atheism, he was the master of tribunes. In debating on Christian moderation, represented by Bkerki, all come below Kamal El-Hage.

And even in addressing a series of “objections” within the Maronite church, and inside the clergy, some of which were on the Patriarch himself, Kamal El-Hage was the only one to dare.

In all these battles, my father rested assured of reaching the final victory because he was confident of the honesty of his statements and the strength of his arguments.

Only one front he realized would take him long because as he said it is: “the hardest, farthest and most difficult to reach”.

How do we Lebanize philosophy for the purpose of philosophizing Lebanon? And by digression, how do we practice the philosophical concept in order to face our crucial dilemmas? At last: Are there historical bases for this Lebanese philosophical confrontation throughout the ages? Is there a Lebanese philosophy?

Whoever thinks that Kamal El-Hage asked himself these questions for the first time in the middle of the seventies, within his fierce battle to include the subject of Lebanese philosophy in academic programs for the philosophy department at the Lebanese University, is wrong in thinking that way.

In fact he has launched university studies in Lebanese philosophy from the tribune of Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in the late 1960.

I read that the second “Kamhagian” era lasted until 1972 and it was busy and very fruitful. Its most important stages include two books and four lectures.

The first book was “On the Philosophy of Zionism” (1967). It originated from a series of articles which were published in “Al Hayat” newspaper following the war of the six days.

The second book, “Between the essence and existence or towards a committed philosophy” (1971), laid down in a complete formulation his philosophical discipline based on the equality between essence and existence and the involvement of philosophy in politics, starting in it with what had prepared him to enter such door schematically in 1957.

As for the four lectures, they were given as series in the summer of 1969 under one title: “Lebanon among the flames. Will it burn?” In these lectures El-Hage started from Lebanon as it is to Lebanon as it should be, detailing the internal and external dangers facing it. In this series, his proactive vision of war in Lebanon and on Lebanon is remarkably highlighted.

I mention for history, that he wrote one of these lectures, the third one I think, with one strike of a pen, in a single night, and this is very rare when it comes to him.

Since that series, my father’s emphasis increased on Lebanon as it should be; The Lebanon of tomorrow, the Lebanon of history. Different titles for one same Lebanon: Lebanon the message.

El-Hage spoke about the apostolic Lebanon, about Lebanon which is more than a country, dozens of years before John Paul II.

Is it a coincidence that these two immortals died on the same day, the second of April? Maybe this is a sign from above on the necessity of caring for the Lebanese miracle without revealing its secret.

“Lebanon’s tomorrow is a chapter in the Lebanon of tomorrow”, says El-Hage. “The Lebanon of tomorrow is more than Lebanese… the Lebanon of tomorrow is apostolic… its apostolic character is directed towards the Lebanese in the inside, Arabs on the outside and to all peoples of earth.” El-Hage wrote these words months before his assassination, and it echoed back in the famous papal statement on September 7, 1989: “Lebanon is more than a country: it is a message of freedom and a model of pluralism for the East and the West.”

In the New Year of 1972, his adored mother died in his arms and he was alone with her. He accompanied her from her first rattling until she murmured her last commandments. Witnessing death, his growing old, and his disappointment from philosophy facing the inevitability of death, “his Mary”.

This is how my father witnesses for the presence of Virgin Mary in his being: “it was in a small modest church only visited by the meek. I was on my knees praying and I had focused all my attention on my heart, my mind and my conscience to recall the face of my beloved mother deep within me.

I was crying in a moment of chocking silence, my head between my palms… In that mad night, Virgin Mary called me… Yes, I heard Virgin Mary call my name. I saw the light of her eyes and it was evening. And it was morning… And today I’m one of Virgin Mary’s children… at her feet I threw all the philosophies of the impostor world… I no longer enjoy philosophy except for the extent that the depth of Mary’s connection to the great Trinity was evident to me.”

With these words my father inaugurated his third, last and infinite philosophical era, just like Schubert’s symphony. Despite his declared disappointment from philosophy, he only abandoned it technically, so to speak. It remained in his veins, in the writings of his pen and in the pulse of his ink.

He earnestly needed it to focus his pampered child, Lebanese philosophy, in its two “mandatory frames”, the world philosophy and the Arab philosophy, within a mighty philosophical epopee, in which he examines, in Arabic and in one vision, the pillars of world thought through the ages on twelve large volumes under the title of “Landmarks of Human Thought”.

In this encyclopedia, Lebanese philosophy comes as a second series of thought, constituted of four volumes, between the series of world philosophy (the first) and Arab philosophy (the third), each coming in four volumes.

The obligatory reason for the encyclopedia is according to him: “To Lebanize philosophy in Arabic to philosophize Lebanon in a shaking Arab world”. This was said in 1972, after becoming a child of Mary.

Fate did not give him enough time to achieve this mighty and unique ambition in the Arab world and maybe absolutely: A single writer roaming around all philosophy as a philosopher not a narrator.

This is an achievement that only the strongest men in history, if any, in rare moments measured by centuries. An enormous loss caused for us by his killers. The only loss worthy of being avenged for, even after hundreds of years.

War on Lebanon’s destiny and the distortion and deformation of the Lebanese truth, as a prelude to swallow up the entity depicted as the message, started in the halls of the Lebanese University before expanding all over the country.

A cowing of misfortune deafened our academic ears between 1972 and 1975 versus the singing of Kamal El-Hage, “singing out of tune”, with the perpetuity of the human Lebanese nationalism, the greatness of Lebanon the history, the priority of free Man over every deaf community mass, the stubbornness of Christian-Muslim love and the truth of the Lebanese philosophy.

My father started to realize, in these quie tensed circumstances, that death will not spare the country, and might not spare him. He did not care for his own life, he who consecrated himself to the Lord of life and his mother. But he feared for the country and its coming generations and feared from the horrible ignorance slavery.

So he fought the fiercest of battles in his academic life in order to include Lebanese philosophy as a mandatory subject in the academic studies program at the Lebanese University.

His wish was granted to him in 1974 in the mandate of his friend and life companion, the then-Minister of Culture, writer and friend politician, Me Edmond Rizk.

Under the circumstances of pre-war, almost leading to explosion, he progressed on two tracks he devoted himself for: the first one is giving religious sermons after his transformation, soon after he became one of the children of Mary, in civil clothes.

The second is starting to write a “summary” for the volumes of Lebanese philosophy in his encyclopedia so that students in the recently adopted subject could refer to it. This is how his mediation sermons on Christmas, the priest, virgin Joseph, Easter, virgin Mary, the Cross and the Trinity appeared, as well as his large volume “Summary of Lebanese Philosophy”.

The latter, just like “the philosophy of the language” is of the most lasting and precious of his writings, despite having some shortages because of rushing in writing it in the light of the fear from an ominous fate that my father started fearing, in his almost prophetic sensitive intuition, as a “reward” for what he fought for with clear solidity and sincerity.

Then the war came, he went to Chbaniye and worked on calming things down and reconciling between the residents of Mount Lebanon. The prayer rosary never left his hand, and every time he took the Holy Communion he cried a river, and his spirit was emancipated to heaven above and he ended up with his wish to end his life as a monk in a convent…
… Then April 2…
… And immortality in history…
… And in the kingdom of truth.