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.

Most of these features are centered around the nature and political relevance of “decision-making.” Under absolute monarchy, the sovereign “manifest[ed] his sovereignty through a particular decision,” regardless of what that decision happened to be. (pg. 150) An objection to such particularistic decision-making, however, was exactly what united the disempowered subgroups mentioned above.  In contrast to this absolutist model, the Enlightenment advocated the rule of rational administrators in the place of sovereign decision-makers. According to this latter mindset, observed conditions are rationally combined with eternal laws in order give, as output, the “right” response to those conditions.  At no point is a decision (in any deep or meaningful sense) necessary or morally tolerated – other than the decision to follow the undecided dictates of moral reason, of course.

It was for this reason that secret societies became the necessary, decision-making counterpart to moral society.  No matter how much Enlightened thinkers resisted the idea, decision-making inevitably lies at the very core of the political process.  The Schmittian argument for this is that all rules and laws – except, perhaps, the most abstract and content-less ones – have exceptions and such exceptions can only be recognized and/or made by way of sovereign decision-making.

The obvious question which arises in response to the inevitability of decision-making, then, is that of legitimacy: Whose decisions are binding upon others and whose are not? Despite their strong disagreements on other issues, Protestants, Catholics and Absolutists all saw secret and moral societies as their enemy and the common charge against all such societies was their “illegitimacy”. By what right did such societies claim to rule over others in any capacity? It was to this question that mystifying appeals to “natural law” and “collective will” were supposed to provide answers.  Put bluntly, morality – as a set of values distinct from both religion and politics – was specifically aimed at silencing the question of legitimacy.

The question of legitimacy, however, becomes quite poignant given the universalistic ambitions of the Enlightenment movement:

“The King as ruler by divine right appears almost modest alongside the judge of mankind who replaced him, the critic who believed that, like God on Judgement Day, he had the right to subject the universe to his verdict.” (pg. 118)

Indeed, given the negative logic which both unified the Enlightenment coalition as well as structured its moral discourse, it should come as no surprise that little room was left for affirmative claims that might otherwise contain the universal acid of criticism. By thus abolishing the privilege associated with legitimacy, “the Enlightenment discards all taboos, causing everything to be sucked into the maelstrom of the public gaze.” (pg. 116) Criticism, by self-consciously subjecting absolutely everything to it, meant the death of kings as such (both mortal and divine), leaving behind mere mortal (and immortal?) citizens whose assertions were no less subject to public criticism than any other.

While “the spheres of reason and religion were critically separated precisely so as to assure the rule of reason and the pre-eminence of morality over religion,” (pg. 111) it should be noted that religious authorities were themselves complicit in this historical process. Criticism and philology was first taken up by humanists and Catholics who sought to undermine the straightforward appeal to scripture (associated with Protestantism), thus establishing a need for ecclesiastical organization (associated with Catholicism). In so doing, however, these Catholic thinkers shifted the locus of authority from the affirmative decisionism that is bound up with revelation to the negative formalism of rational criticism (‘conjecture and refutation’ is as good a term as any for this).

The absolutist state was, therefore, the mechanism by which the violent wars of religion that pitted all against all in the public battlefield were transformed into verbal wars of religious criticism that pitted all against all within the private, moral sphere.  The Enlightenment was, consequently, the process in which this civil war of ideas established itself, not merely as being one legitimate endeavor among many, but as being the exclusive source of legitimacy itself. As noted above, however, the legitimacy of Enlightenment morality actively repressed all decision-making elements, thus making it a very different sort than that of traditional religion and absolutist politics. Within these latter value-systems, legitimacy was a quality of the decision-makers themselves rather than their decisions as such. This deification of morality served to re-focus worship and obedience upon the word of God rather than the person of God.  This active repression God’s voluntaristic sovereignty found its clearest expression in 18th Century natural religion and deism.

This transformation in the meaning of “legitimacy” can thus be divided up along the following lines: The king was originally subject to the dictates of God as taught by religion – religious authorities having some authority to pass judgment upon him and his rule. Subjects obeyed their king because it was his divine right to command them (righteous dominion is the word Mormons would probably use here). Absolute monarchism reversed this hierarchy by placing the absolute monarch above all religious authorities except God Himself.  Legitimacy is modeled as an exchange between the subjects’ obedience for the king’s protection of their very lives. Finally, moral society separates itself from and then actively replaces traditional religion in its pre-reformation role.  This bourgeois morality transforms God Himself into an abstract moral order and moral society into His living authorities, both of which stand in judgement of the king. Morality thus deprives the king of all decision-making or otherwise political content, thus reducing him to a mere executor of the absolute moral law that he, being no different from any other citizen, must submit.

Questions for Mormons:

  1. Some Mormons believe that God is no less subject to moral principles and laws than anybody else. Does this make these principles and laws which stand over and above God the “true” god of Mormonism? Do we worship God Himself, or merely the principles and laws which He advocates? When God commands or allows for exceptions to moral rules and laws, does this re-position Him above them?
  2. What is the relationship between “free agency” and decision-making? Is our agency merely limited to affirming an un-decided moral order, or are we authorized to actively make sovereign decisions within our respective stewardships? Are such decisions ever binding upon other people?
  3. What role does “legitimacy” play within the church? Are decisions or decision-makers the locus of legitimacy? Do abstract decisions have a greater claim to rule my life than concrete persons do? What effect does a disproportionate concern for the legitimacy of decisions have upon our concern for the legitimacy of decision-makers? Is the negativity of the former fully compatible with the affirmative sovereignty of the latter?
  4. The critical reasoning of moral society emerged as Catholic scholars sought to defend their church against Protestant challengers.  In what ways might Mormon apologetics produce the same unintended by-products as this Catholic humanism?  Are apologists or bloggers such as myself belligerents within the verbal war of religious criticism?  Is there a difference between the mutual criticism that defines moral society and the contentions and disputations that Jesus forbad?


  1. Most secret societies were the educated elite. Kind of weird to distinguish there. In particular in England it became a way people mused on geometry and platonism. Thus the expansion of masonry into these much more intellectual aspects in the 18th century. The broadening of secret societies was more a 19th and early 20th century feature as they came to have a proto-insurance aspect.

    Curious as to his argument here. (France might be different, although the secret societies I’m familiar with there were also very tied to educated elites)

    I’d add that Catholics and Protestants seeing secret societies as threats really depends upon the time frame. In the early 19th century that clearly was the case. I’m not sure it’s always the case although an interesting key value in most Protestantism is an egalitarianism of knowledge/texts (priesthood of all believers, and ability of all to read the Bible). So there’s definitely an aspect there. In Catholicism it always came off as seeing such societies as a competitive threat to authority.

    Regarding criticism and philology, it’s been quite some years since I studied that. But my memory was that it developed as much in concert with Protestantism and legal hermeneutics. i.e. as much as a way for Protestants to read the text as a way to undermine Protestant reading. While competition between groups is and always will be part of any evolutionary development, it seems to me there was key feedback and co-development between scriptural hermeneutics, legal hermeneutics and scientific hermeneutics. So I’m not sure I buy this particular framework of development.

    Comment by Clark — March 16, 2016 @ 9:06 am

  2. Regarding the key thesis I’m not sure I buy that. Certainly there’s an aspect of that. Words over wars. Yet there was no shortage of wars. Again a lot depends upon the exact periods and locations one is talking of. While England was opening up and among certain intellectual elites so were the Germanic and French regions, there was no shortage of totalitarianism. Secret society were as much a way to have pluralism within such regimes as anything. (The development of careful witty satire that often was missed by the totalitarian bureaucrats also flourished in this era in the more constrained nations of the 19th century)

    The idea that there was a common ethical arena seems dubious to me. Pluralism was developing in some areas but often was cut off by war or overthrow of more lenient rulers. Even in more pluralistic societies like England or some of its colonies this was a matter of degree. The distinction between the person of God and the word of God might make sense along some lines but not others. And the word of God would itself be bifurcated along lines where individuals had authority to interpret it and more constrained societies. So even where purportedly individuals could interpret the text there often were large punishments if one deviated from the social norms in that society. As such, I think looking at more theoretical models within these cultures often obscures the real power lines. Along many lines the theoretical discussions in a conservative puritan community and a conservative Catholic community are moot when the actual power lines are so similar.

    Comment by Clark — March 16, 2016 @ 9:13 am

  3. It is worth keeping in mind that Koselleck’s account does not attempt to describe the 19th century onward. (He also doesn’t have too much to say about British history.) Thus, he is more focused on how, in 1772, there were 164 lodges in France, but by 1789 there were 629. His main point, on this front, is 1) the advancement intellectual Enlightenment was of practical necessity tied up with secret societies, and 2) these secret societies were the birth place of modern political parties and other such organizations.

    As for philology, etc., his point was that religion had been complicit in the process that would lead to its own social demotion. He goes over the issue very quickly and avoids taking any categorical positions on the issue.

    “The idea that there was a common ethical arena seems dubious to me.”

    Koselleck is definitely not the originator of such an idea. His book is, partially, a response to Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere – this “public sphere” being the cosmopolitan culture (in which peasants and workers had no place) which developed throughout the Western world by way of newspapers, public theaters, critical reviews, the Encyclopie, large-scale publishing of books, pamphlets, serials, etc. The most obvious manifestation of this public sphere was the Republic of Letters by which Benjamin Franklin was able to gain such immense favor throughout France.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 16, 2016 @ 10:53 am

  4. It is worth emphasizing that Koselleck seems to be very specifically aimed at Habermas. Habermas claims that the public sphere which emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries was 1) free from political domination and 2) out to legislate state action. Koselleck’s Schmittian account specifically takes aim at (1) by framing the 18th century in terms of absolute monarchism, thus calling (2) into serious question.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 16, 2016 @ 12:12 pm

  5. Does this make these principles and laws which stand over and above God the “true” god of Mormonism?

    Yes, that is a big part of why we don’t agree with the creedal Christians.

    Do we worship God Himself, or merely the principles and laws which He advocates?

    Or herself? or Them? I don’t think it is a merely mutually exclusive choice but we do know that if God violated those rules God would cease to be God.

    1. When God commands or allows for exceptions to moral rules and laws, does this re-position Him above them?

    I think this assumes that the true moral laws operate according to abstract principles. We don’t know the ways of God and so can’t know if they are exceptions or not.

    What is the relationship between “free agency” and decision-making?
    Agency means that you have a decision.

    Is our agency merely limited to affirming an un-decided moral order, or are we authorized to actively make sovereign decisions within our respective stewardships?

    Having agency means that we can oppose or affirm the moral order, but we can’t change the consequences of affirming or opposing that order.

    Are such decisions ever binding upon other people?

    Where the moral law grants the power of binding then decisions can bind others.

    What role does “legitimacy” play within the church?

    An important one for exercising keys.

    Are decisions or decision-makers the locus of legitimacy?


    Do abstract decisions have a greater claim to rule my life than concrete persons do?

    All understanding of an other is an abstraction.

    What effect does a disproportionate concern for the legitimacy of decisions have upon our concern for the legitimacy of decision-makers?

    I don’t think “legitimate” is a religiously relevant word.

    Is the negativity of the former fully compatible with the affirmative sovereignty of the latter?

    I don’t think negative and affirmative are religiously relevant words.

    In what ways might Mormon apologetics produce the same unintended by-products as this Catholic humanism?

    Apolegetics seems totally inconsistent with being called of God.

    Are apologists or bloggers such as myself belligerents within the verbal war of religious criticism?


    Is there a difference between the mutual criticism that defines moral society and the contentions and disputations that Jesus forbad?

    Moral society is an oxymoron.

    Comment by Martin James — March 16, 2016 @ 2:12 pm

  6. Martin,

    I don’t necessarily think that you’re wrong – nor do I necessarily think that you should change what you believe.

    Instead, my main point is that members might be equally justified in answering these question completely different than you do. Do you grant this?

    I’ve posed this to a different person before – I think it was one of the Kristine’s. I asked if she at least acknowledged that my quasi-authoritarian system was a coherent alternative to the one she personally accepted. She was, however, unwilling to grant this – without any supporting argument, of course.

    I a reader such a her or yourself grant that mine is a coherent alternative that you simply cannot accept yourself, I’m perfectly okay with that.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 16, 2016 @ 3:12 pm

  7. “Do you grant this?”

    Of course, I thought it was a call for responses so I gave some responses.

    Comment by Martin James — March 16, 2016 @ 4:09 pm

  8. If I was trying to show her position to be incoherent, then I would shoulder almost all the burden of proof. But that’s not what I was doing. Indeed, since it was she who was trying to show my position to be incoherent, then it is she who shoulders almost all the burden -a burden which she refused to bear.

    I see similar parallels in our exchanges.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 16, 2016 @ 4:09 pm

  9. You’re right. I was referring more to our overall disagreements, than to your responses here… although your responses are framed in very definitive terms, as if there were no other legitimate answers.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 16, 2016 @ 4:11 pm

  10. I appreciate the ways that you point out the sociology of politics/religion/morals are not what they seem on the surface. Sometime when you get around to it, I’d be interested in what you make of the ancient philosophical tradition via Plato/Augustine and Aristotle/Aquinas. The issues they raise seem to me to be similar to those that you think came about with the enlightenment and so it confuses me why you think they are new. Maybe you can show me how they are more in the ancient tradition of morality as personal authority because they don’t seem that way to me, but maybe I’m being influenced by anachronistic translations or interpretations. Augustine seems to have made the “i think therefore I am” move well before Descartes for example.

    Comment by Martin James — March 16, 2016 @ 4:16 pm

  11. As for the general objections, I’m not saying that your approach is incoherent, but more that it abandons aspects of mormonism that I think are vital rather than incidental. I recognize that it is a judgement call on what is vital versus peripheral. Sometimes you say those aspects are antithetical to mormonism, sometimes you say they are minor, mostly you say they are not objections, and occasionally you say they were part of the tradition but times change.
    We are kind of doing different things. From my perspective you are doing a therapeutic recontextualization to reduce people’s tension of seeing mormon culture as at odds with something that opposes it by making what opposes it seem like a choice and a bad one. I’m more interested in what ways of thinking about morals makes the most sense of the entire experience and history of mormonism. From my perspective much of what you see as external or dated, I see as internal and vital within the mormon tradition including mormon authorities.
    I was thinking today that you basically see mormonism as politics and that is just aesthetically unsatisfying for me.

    Comment by Martin James — March 16, 2016 @ 4:27 pm

  12. I think your arguments about religion are like Trump’s arguments about politics. I’m not opposed to Trump as illegitimate, but I also think agreeing with him requires one to abandon some aspects of american political culture that are vital.
    Or from your point of view, I think the decision to postulate an external moral law creates morality. If one cannot sustain that it is external then one is not doing “morality” at all, one is doing politics (usually self-interested).
    It is the ability to defend against one’s reasoning being self-motivated (both individually and collectively) that gives the claim to morality any force or usefulness as a concept. It may be the case that there is no such thing that all attempts at morality are self-interested but that doesn’t make those attempts what “morality” is conceptually. I think the distinction goes back way before the enlightenment.

    Comment by Martin James — March 16, 2016 @ 4:40 pm

  13. Your comments actually make a lot of seems to me. As for Plato and Augustine, 1) I don’t think their arguments and conceptual schemes ever went mainstream in any political or social sense and 2) due to their distance in time, our own mainstream thinking does not trace directly back to them. In other words, modern thinkers had to revive those thinkers. To the extent that Plato (might be) an exception, Alvin Gouldner provided a similar analysis of him in Enter Plato.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 16, 2016 @ 5:31 pm

  14. Of course, all of these ancient authors thought political leaders should be virtuous and serve the gods in some sense. Secularism never existed until very recently, making modernity very unique.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 16, 2016 @ 5:34 pm

  15. Jeff (3) I think my skepticism might be not that there is no “common arena” but what the common arena means and how diverse it is. That is, how pluralistic are things.

    I misunderstood that this was primarily focused on France. (Sorry, I just skimmed the earlier two posts) However if we are drawing inferences, something that limits itself to France and ignores differences in England/America seems problematic.

    That said I knew lodges in France developed differently. (As an aside the most interesting Mormon masonic parallels are to French rather than British traditions) I’ll confess my relative ignorance though.

    Jeff (4) I suspect I’m skeptical of both Habermas and Koselleck. Both seem to ignore the minor in preference to some view of the major. Yet establishing the modal tendency seems wrought with difficulty and ignoring the minor seems to undermine most conclusions.

    That’s not to ignore these as philosophical frameworks, merely to question how true to the history they are. (I say the same about Foucalt as well)

    Comment by Clark — March 17, 2016 @ 9:21 am

  16. Jeff (13) while I think Plato and Aristotle can be exaggerated, it seems odd to say they weren’t “mainstream in any political or social sense.” They dominated intellectual thought for a very long time and mastering them was part and parcel of education really until well into the 20th century. One can well argue that in the intellectual sphere it was those two figures (and their conflict) that defined the Renaissance.

    Again, I think that one can push this too far by neglecting where people broke from them (which is also a key feature of the Renaissance and then Modernism). Looking at the influence of the figures and how assumptions from them still characterize thought can be useful. I do agree one can go too far with them though.

    Comment by Clark — March 17, 2016 @ 9:25 am

  17. “That is, how pluralistic are things.”

    Well, that can be said about any group. The point I made in this post is that this cosmopolitan group was far more united by their shared oppositions than by any shared affirmation. They hated the parochial religions/traditions that defined pre-modernity in general and the political stratifications that defined the absolutist state. Habermas (and most pro-moderns) argues that there was and is enough of an overlap in shared truths, norms and aesthetic judgement left over for this Enlightenment coalition to legislate politics (his view of political discourse/inquiry closely parallels Pierce’s views of science). Koselleck disagrees.

    It was actually me who placed most of the focus on France, since this is clearly where the most influential events took place until the mid 19th century (Louis the XIV, the Enlightenment, the Revolution, Napoleon). Koselleck focuses just as much on Germany and (to a far lesser degree, since their transition from civil war to parliamentary constitutionalism happened so quickly) Britain. Until WWI, America isn’t really even worth mentioning in terms of its influence on intellectual (especially political) culture if only because it was never really forced to confront a pre-modern “chain of being” in any major sense.

    “They dominated intellectual thought for a very long time and mastering them was part and parcel of education really until well into the 20th century.”

    Okay, but their influence has since become massively filtered through the secular lenses of the Enlightenment – lenses which pick and choose which of their writings we will master, who will master them and at what level. Additionally, the very fact that they were central figures for 2,000 years without producing “secularism” in any recognizable or socially significant sense clearly separates their influence from that of the Enlightenment coalition. Now days, we no longer internalize the teachings and values of Plato and Aristotle in anywhere near the degree to which we are taught to think in terms of Locke, Rousseau, Mill, etc.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 17, 2016 @ 12:13 pm

  18. I think if we just focus on oppositions there is a lot of commonality. What I fear is that the differences get lost in the focus on similar concerns. Effectively you have the start perhaps as early as the time of Aquinas against certain types of censorship. (Think the place of the condemnations of Paris in 1277 and it’s place in intellectual thought and the beginning of the Renaissance — around the time of Aquinas Aristotle is being redeemed but there’s censorship against this) This questioning ends up being the defining characteristic of the Renaissance IMO. (i.e. both against Plato and Aristotle but especially the latter who’d come to start dominating in various ways) By the modern era people are breaking much more with authority although typically not in an absolute form. (Again, think of the Reformation which was as often as not imposing a new authority rather than pluralism)

    While I’m far from an expert on the history of Modernism I am skeptical of an unity of the sort Habermas presents although it’s possible there’s enough unity among some to offer something similar. Part of the problem is deciding where you draw your boundaries and why. Are we looking at Paris? At London? At subgroups in each? Why is Italy ignored? It’s those complexities that I think undermine aspects of these narratives even if perhaps elements can be salvaged.

    Take your comment on America. Why can we say America wasn’t influential when the form the ideas took seem very influential? And how can we say the pre-moderns don’t matter in America when the premodern are a major focus of education in the formal education system and when figures like Peirce and Emerson are explicitly dealing with these premodern figures? Even acknowledging a certain filtering of these figures, the texts themselves are read and often in the original languages. I just don’t think you can dismiss them even if these figures are put in dialog with figures of Modernism like Locke, Rousseau etc.

    I just think things are more complicated than these stories present.

    Comment by Clark — March 17, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

  19. I should add, that despite these complaints I do think there are two trends within intellectual circles in late Modernism. That of transparency vs. closed deciding, pluralism vs. subgroups as threats to freedom; intellectuals as impotence vs. intellectuals as activists; etc. Honestly I think those tensions continue to be part and parcel of the open society. So don’t mistake my skepticism on these certain narratives with denying these elements are important intellectual trends.

    Comment by Clark — March 17, 2016 @ 12:44 pm

  20. I guess I just don’t see the relevance of pluralism here. Different groups were rejecting and tolerating different forms of pluralism…. as always.

    The points I’ve isolated are:
    1) Absolutism released politics from its tutelage to morality and religion thus becoming a solution to the civil/religious wars.
    2) The Enlightenment consisted in a hypocritical alliance between moral society (which sought reinstate the tutelage of politics to public reason) and secret societies.
    3) The “peer review” which structured moral reasoning threw off its tutelage to religion and stood in absolute opposition to the decisionism of absolutism.

    I don’t see how pluralism refutes any of these claims.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 17, 2016 @ 1:56 pm

  21. I should emphasize there are two kinds of pluralism I’m discussing. First is the openness to competing views. That kind of pluralism was much rarer before the 19th century except for small times or places.

    The second kind of pluralism and more key to your points is simply the acknowledgement of diversity of views within western Europe.

    To your three points.

    First, while I didn’t delve into it I just don’t buy that absolutism ever functioned practically the way you suggest. You simply discount economic drives which often were behind wars. That is, while I don’t ignore the place of morals/norms and religion in terms of incentivizing or at least justifying war, I think their place is grossly exaggerated. The main reason for wars in Europe was a drive for wealth or status.

    You didn’t address absolutism in the above post so I’ll read your earlier ones as I only had time to skim them last week. (Which is why I hadn’t replied to them)

    To the second point even if within the enlightenment there was an alliance between “moral society” and secret societies, this isn’t all that was going on. To understand the enlightenment just within that structure to the exclusion of what else was going on distorts the enlightenment history. That is, it’s bad history.

    To the third point the social aspect of formal ethical reasoning just never was in opposition to religion as the extensive writings on ethics from a formal philosophical and religious perspective going back at least to Augustine. This tradition was a live and well within the Enlightenment and often included returning to that process by looking again at Stoic ethics, Aristotilean ethics and more.

    To portray this as in opposition to absolutism is also problematic. Again, depending upon how you define absolutism this simply was always the state of affairs. To give a pre-enlightenment example consider the place of dogma in Paris around the time of Aquinas.

    Comment by Clark — March 18, 2016 @ 9:39 am

  22. I’ll parallel your numbering for convenience:

    1. I think there is some truth to what you say, but to think that religion played no role whatsoever in those wars seems pretty far fetched. He does, however, place a lot of weight in Hobbes’ assertion that moral/religious conscience acted as a catalyst for war, in contrast to what all sides claimed. While I think Hobbes was right, it’s not obvious to me how far this point generalizes.

    2. I’m not sure which “structure” you’re referring to. If anything, his primary target is those who want to pretend that the public sphere of the enlightenment was something totally independent of the secret societies. (He would probably welcome your claim that it was even more complicated than he suggests!) This was and still is a very common claim since it is precisely this claim which suggests that politics (as something above and beyond moral/rational administration) is utterly superfluous. While I don’t think I’ll actually do another post on the book (since it doesn’t have too much to do with different understandings of religion), he is very much concerned with explaining the emergence of criticism and crisis (this being the name of the book) which would fuel multiple revolutions. Thus, even if we no longer believe the political state to be superfluous (and this is debatable), he still wants to explain how other people did believe this.

    3. I think the main point to be made is that the enlightenment was fundamentally a bourgeois movement – thus separating it from the political theorizing that came before. Of course there have always been moral theorists who have aligned themselves with dominant classes, but none of them ever endorsed a republic in the strong, universal sense of the French Revolution. The enlightenment coalition sought to theorize a morality by totally rejecting any kind of tutelage to religion (thus disqualifying Augustine and Aquinas) or social hierarchy (thus disqualifying the Greeks). By uniting themselves with a rising rather than a dominant class, 1) they separated themselves from the vast majority of theorists before them and 2) they were able to maintain, though political impotence, the illusion of neutrality and universality. To be sure, these moderns were no less universalistic in their theorizing than those who had come before, but it was their pretended neutrality to all nation, sect, caste and class that seemed to set them apart. If your objection is that these enlightenment thinkers were no less neutral than the theorists of old, then you’re mostly making his argument for him, to the chagrin of pro-moderns everywhere.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 18, 2016 @ 12:45 pm

  23. In other words, his argument is that absolutism provided the social conditions that are necessary for a coalition which feigned neutrality could have an air of plausibility to them. That pre-modern theorists were never operating within a context of absolutism, along with it nascent bourgeoisie, is largely what sets them apart from the moderns.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 18, 2016 @ 12:49 pm

  24. It’s also worth pointing out the enormous influence which Carl Schmitt had on Koselleck. The following quotes from Schmitt’s wikipedia page should make the relationship a bit clearer:

    Political Theology

    The book begins with Schmitt’s famous, or notorious, definition: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.” By “exception,” Schmitt means the appropriate moment for stepping outside the rule of law in the public interest… Schmitt proposes this definition to those offered by contemporary theorists of sovereignty…

    Schmitt criticized the institutional practices of liberal politics, arguing that they are justified by a faith in rational discussion and openness that is at odds with actual parliamentary party politics, in which outcomes are hammered out in smoke-filled rooms by party leaders. Schmitt also posits an essential division between the liberal doctrine of separation of powers and what he holds to be the nature of democracy itself, the identity of the rulers and the ruled… [T]he idea of incompatibility between liberalism and democracy is one reason for the continued interest in his political philosophy.

    Koselleck is primarily aimed at providing a historical account of and support for these claims.

    Comment by Jeff G — March 18, 2016 @ 3:24 pm

  25. My point is more that there are a lot of threads going on and to talk about an essence or even two or three seems distorting. It’s not that what you say isn’t going on. It’s that the focus on that marginalizing other important elements.

    Comment by Clark — March 18, 2016 @ 9:22 pm

  26. I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at.

    1) Unless you can say something about what, exactly, these additional threads are and how they are relevant, there’s not much I can do with that perspective.

    2) I don’t think Koselleck is trying to define the “essence” of anything – just expose the repressed underbelly of the “public sphere” which objectively did come into existence during that time. Indeed, without something akin to the emergence of a public sphere the historical emergence of ideologies remain utterly mysterious. (Gouldner’s The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology is a great read on this front.)

    Comment by Jeff G — March 19, 2016 @ 1:02 pm