Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Paul Tillich on the Institutions of Capitalism

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Paul Tillich on the Institutions of Capitalism

Article excerpt

The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the institutional and social aspects of the philosophy of Paul Tillich, especially with respect to his critique of the capitalist economic system. Tillich was one of the foremost theologians of the twentieth century, and while his primary emphasis was theoretical, he, throughout his life, recognized the necessity of action and assumed an activist position on most issues. Tillich's analysis of the capitalist system is cast in a mold of a theory of social institutions.

Tillich was born in 1886 in a part of Germany that now belongs to Poland, the oldest son of a Lutheran pastor (Pauck, 1976, pp. 1-2). He studied at the University of Berlin, received the Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Breslau, and received the Licentiate of Theology from the University of Halle. He was ordained as a minister and served as a Chaplain in the army during World War I. After the war, he became a professor at the University of Berlin. His first public lecture, in 1919, on his own thought was titled "On the Idea of a Theology of Culture" (Pauck, 1976, pp. 287-88).

In 1920 Tillich joined a group, never exceeding ten or twelve in number, called the kairos group, which met to discuss economic and political problems, especially in post-war Germany, which this group saw as having the opportunity for creating new structures of economic organization and governance. Adolf Lowe was a member of the group, and from their first meeting in 1920 Tillich and Lowe remained lifelong friends. Lowe was dismissed from his academic post in 1933 after the Nazi takeover, moving first to England and the University of Manchester and then to the United States and the New School for Social Research, where he remained for the rest of his career (Pauck, 1976, pp. 71-72). Eduard Heimann, a professor of economics at the University of Hamburg, was also a member of the group. Heimann, a Jew, emigrated to the United States in 1933 and joined the faculty at the New School (Pauck, 1976, p. 72). Tillich, Lowe, and Heimann remained friends and stayed in close contact until Tillich's death. His close association with these two social economists influenced Tillich's application of his religious and philosophical theories into the field of economics.

In 1929 Tillich accepted a position as Professor of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Frankfort, where Adolf Lowe and Karl Mannheim were members of the economics faculty. The University of Frankfort provided a liberal atmosphere where professors visited each other's seminars and entered into discussions and debates with each other. Tillich worked closely with psychologists, sociologists, historians, philosophers, and scientists. It was during his time at the University of Frankfort that Tillich became well-known in Germany (Pauck, 1976, pp. 114-19).

In early 1933, shortly after the appointment of Hitler as chancellor, the Nazis occupied the University of Frankfort with the purpose of arresting all Marxists and Jews. In April, 1933, lists of the names of professors who were considered enemies of the state were published. Enemies were divided into two categories: first, left-wing intellectuals and the politically suspect and, second, Jews or the racially suspect. Tillich's name appeared on the first list, as did Adolf Lowe's, despite the fact that Lowe was Jewish. Lowe had fled Germany in March, fearing imprisonment (Pauck, 1976, pp. 129-31). Tillich was offered a professorship at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he arrived in late 1933.

Tillich remained at Union Theological Seminary as a professor until 1955 when he resigned to become University Professor at Harvard University. He was named Professor of Theology in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in 1962. Shortly before his death in Chicago in 1965, he accepted a position at the New School for Social Research in New York. Tillich had been invited to the New School by his old friends Lowe and Heimann. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.