Academic journal article CLIO

Hegel on Schleiermacher and Postmodernity

Academic journal article CLIO

Hegel on Schleiermacher and Postmodernity

Article excerpt

The contretemps between G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher at the University of Berlin is well known. (1) The nature of their struggle for influence, the latter's refusal to admit the former into the Berlin Academy and Hegel's reciprocal distancing of Schleiermacher from his critical Annals have been well documented and explored. In fact, Hegel's antipathy toward Schleiermacher stems from the latter's early association with Friedrich Schlegel, whom he defended in 1800 in his "anonymous" letter in support of the "scandalous" novel Lucinde (1799). Schlegel's novel, which seemed an apology for free love, the ambivalence of male and female sexual roles, and a blending of literature and philosophy, could not but offend Hegel's sense of propriety, both with regard to his belief in the institution of marriage and his Platonic promotion of philosophy as science over poetry. Pastor Schleiermacher's defense of Schlegel's apparently loose sexual mores seems to have struck Hegel in a visceral way, as hypocritical, which explains the parson's inclusion in the long addition to paragraph 140 of the Philosophy of Right where hypocrisy, through "probabilism," is linked to romantic irony and Schlegel (see also paragraph 164 add.). In this light, it is not surprising to see Schleiermacher appear here as a "Tartuffe" (paragraph 140 add.). The fact that the Philosophy of Right was written some twenty years after the Jena period reveals the depth of feeling underlying Hegel's antipathy.

Schleiermacher's theology of feeling came to represent, for Hegel, an exemplary expression of contemporary malaise that is presented as the manifest culmination of the history of Christianity. This is interesting for several reasons. First, the actual (wirklich) character that Hegel attributes to Schleiermacher's theology of feeling shows how Hegel comes to understand it in terms of a worldly, historical development. This approach allows him to overcome genealogically what was initially a deeply felt theoretical dilemma between the enlightened and dogmatic views of Christianity. Second, the contemporary nature of the malaise represented in his rival's theology shows that, far from seeing the world around him as the comforting realization of his own system, Hegel feels the presence of something new, something inimical to the world of Science. (2) Third, insofar as we may recognize in Hegel's description of contemporary malaise something of our own condition, and to the extent we understand our epoque as postmodern, we can take his critique of Schleiermacher as telling us something about ourselves. This is indeed the case, and Hegel has something new to say about the postmodern condition.

Hegel seems to have discovered the symptoms of malaise retrospectively, in the parson's influential Speeches on Religion, and particularly in the undiluted first edition of the work (1799), where Schleiermacher's "theology of feeling/ intuition" is initially articulated. (3) Hegel's early take on the theologian's Speeches is far more positive than the polemical critique one finds during the Berlin period, for example, in the Philosophy of Right (1820) and in Hegel's Preface to H. F. W. Hinrichs's work on religion (1822). (4) This preface is particularly important, since it represents one clear instance where Hegel's thoughts on religion are not confined to his published lectures. He actually wrote the preface.

The preface represents Hegel's ultimate pronouncement on his rival and brings to light the first aspect of interest mentioned above: how Hegel comes to resolve a deeply felt contradiction between dogmatic faith and the reasonable religion of the Enlightenment, what was called "natural religion" at the time, through the dialectical movement of the history of Christianity. It is only in the light of this historical movement that one can understand, by contrast, how Schleiermacher's religion of feeling stands in opposition to such a movement, that is, as the static, unresolved expression of the contradiction between faith and reason, where the movement stalls without realizing integration into the wholeness of Hegelian Science. …

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