Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 3

March 14, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 12:50 pm   Category: Ethics,Mormon Culture/Practices,orthodox,Politics,Theology,Universalism

In the first part of this series, I discussed Koselleck’s claim that absolute monarchism had solved the civil/religious wars by placing “reasons of state” above all moral and religious reproach, both of these being relegated to the status of “private opinion”. The second post dealt with, what Koselleck calls, the “hypocrisy of the Enlightenment” wherein moral society came to exert influence and power through a suspicious combination of public claims to universality and neutrality, on the one hand, and particularistic, political influence through secret societies, on the other.  This third post will deal with the tensions which emerged during the Enlightenment between moral reason and sovereign decision-making (both political and religious) and the ways in which “[t]he divine, heretofore impervious, plan of salvation was … transformed into the morally just and rational planning of the future by the new elite.” (pg. 10)

Central to Koselleck’s account is that the (French) Enlightenment was not solely or even primarily a movement among intellectuals – hence his focus upon the crucial role played by secret societies.  Rather, it was a heterogeneous coalition among the anti-absolutist nobility, creditor bourgeoisie, pro-British emigres, philosophes and bureaucrats who were all united around little more than their shared objection to religious and political sovereignty.  These purely negative values around which these groups and interests were temporarily aligned had various forms of practical relevance:

  • They supported the illusion of political impotence and impartiality claimed by the Republic of Letters.
  • They greatly incentivized the criticism of all against all – this being the logic around which moral society became outwardly structured.
  • They strongly dis-incentivized transparency with respect to political decision-making within (secret) societies.
  • It made sub-groups within this coalition see one another as the new enemy to truth/freedom/etc. after the overthrow of absolutist monarchism.


Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 2

March 7, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 1:09 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Universalism

The strange thing about the enlightenment was that the better policies and institutions worked, the more people took them for granted and criticized them for their imperfections.  (This tendency is still very much with us.) Koselleck thus argues, in Crisis and Critique, that the Enlightenment was an inevitably hypocritical process in which various societies – both secret and formal as well as public and informal – attacked absolute monarchism by willfully ignoring the concrete historical problems to which it was a solution.  Absolute monarchism had ended the civil and religious wars by placing a strong division between politics and morality/religion, and it was only within such a context of relative peace that Enlightenment criticisms were able to maintain an air of plausibility.

Thus, while Hobbes saw the authoritarian state as protecting our very lives within a civil war of all against all, 38 years later, Locke would argue that the state was a mechanism for protecting property and happiness within an otherwise peaceful environment populated by people who were both rational and tolerant.  Locke had thus fallen into the traditionally British snare of taking the peace and tolerance which he then observed in his own society as timeless, natural and thus in little need of vigilant safe-guarding when it had actually been the historical product of authoritarian state control.  The historical transition from a Hobbesian to a Lockean idea of the state thus lies at the heart of Koselleck’s argument, it being the antidote to such timeless and quintessentially British thinking. (more…)

Morality, Religion and Politics: Pt. 1

March 3, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 2:51 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Universalism

About a year and a half ago I wrote a small series of posts in which I discussed Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere as a basic outline for different ways in which we can understand the various manifestations of the gospel. Within this post I would like to discuss another book which approach almost the same topic and material from a very different political angle: Reinhart Koselleck’s Critique and Crises: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society. The difference between the two is the whereas Habermas traces his roots back through the Frankfurt School to Kant and Rousseau, Koselleck intellectual heritage traces back through Carl Schmitt to Hobbes. Thus, whereas the former thinks that the “public sphere” is the best thing that can happen within and lead a society, the latter is much more suspicious and cynical about the idea that inter-subjective criticism can deliver on its rather utopian promises. (more…)

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