Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

5 the Project of Reconciliation and the Road to Redemption: Hegel's Social Philosophy and Nietzsche's Critique

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

5 the Project of Reconciliation and the Road to Redemption: Hegel's Social Philosophy and Nietzsche's Critique

Article excerpt

I

Introduction

THE ENLIGHTENMENT PHILOSOPHER Immanuel Kant once said about the French Revolution (1789) that "such a phenomenon in the history of mankind can never be forgotten because it uncovered in human nature a talent and a capacity for improvement, such as no politician would have puzzled out from the past course of things." (2) Kant and many of his contemporaries tended to see in the events of the French Revolution a movement toward greater freedom and rationality that, they believed, would eventually come to characterize the modern "enlightened" world. Yet writing only a few decades later, in the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution--the Jacobin Terror--and the reactionary authoritarianism that followed, Arthur Schopenhauer would observe that "the conduct of men toward one another is characterized as a rule by injustice, extreme unfairness, hardness, and even cruelty; an opposite course of conduct appears only by way of exception." (3) Toward the end of his life, Schopenhauer would conclude: "A philosophy in between the pages of which one does not hear the tears, the weeping and gnashing of teeth and the terrible din of mutual universal murder is no [genuine] philosophy." (4) Certainly since Schopenhauer uttered these words in the mid-nineteenth century, the vast scope of violence and suffering in the world has increased to a point that almost boggles the imagination. In the past century alone, the techniques and practices of human-made mass destruction have escalated to a level beyond belief and comprehension: the Armenian massacres of 1915-1916, the Nazi Holocaust, the Stalinist gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cambodian killing fields, the endless slaughters in Rwanda, the Congo, Kosovo, and Darfur. The list goes on and on. Moreover, the many manifestations of contemporary human-made mass death are phenomena that entail the possibility of total annihilation--nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare. It is not surprising, then, that the reactions to this nihilistic prospect for the future often take the form of either a pessimistic (Schopenhauerian) renunciation of the world, or a Romantic yearning for "paradisiacal innocence" and the return to some supposed lost ethical immediacy or communal unity as a "cure" for the decay that besets modernity.

It is at this juncture that my paper will attempt to explore the complex relationship that exists between the concepts of "social reconciliation" and "cultural redemption" in the philosophies of G. W. F. Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche. The point of departure for the study will be with this so-called problem of nostalgia in modern culture: the alleged loss of a sense of ethical community and social stability, and the yearning for the return to some lost ethical immediacy, for example, the longing for a "lost Hellas." As the sociologists Georg Stauth and Bryan S. Turner point out, "[n]ostalgia is the pain for home" often associated with the traditional English ailment of "homesickness," the German feeling of Heimweh, and the French maladie du pays. In our day and age, the word has drifted away from its original medical or pathological bases "to find location in a cultural reaction to the loss of social stability and comfort in the contemporary urban environment of endless social change and disruption." (5) It has also found location in our contemporary cultural as well as personal reactions to the problems of ecological degradation, genocide, and to the development (and use) of modern technologies of mass destruction.

As Raymond Geuss points out, both Hegel and Nietzsche are "distinguished contributors" to what has been a long-standing cultural debate in the West about the ills of modern society and the problem of "being at home" in such an alienated and violent world. This has been a debate in which many philosophers of the modern period, including Hegel and Nietzsche, were in broad agreement about the basic diagnosis of the problem, while disagreeing sharply about the treatment, as well as the prognosis:

   The diagnosis was that life in the modern world lacks a kind of
   unity, coherence, and meaningfulness that life in previous
   societies [e. … 
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