97 Theses on Hegel and His Catholic Readers

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
—Luke 21-34-35

Hegel and His Interpreters

  1. Hegel is the continental philosopher whose reputation—together with that of Kant—is basically intact. It was not always so. In any event, it is not clear that the only or main reason is his intrinsic philosophical virtues. While not wholly true, his current high approval rating seems to be a function of excellence by association, in the first case with Marx where excellence is defined in terms of praxis and in the second case with Kant where excellence is defined by success in the modern epistemological project.
  2. It should come as no great surprise that as with any thinker in the philosophy canon there are numerous perspectives on Hegel. A consistent pattern in interpretation almost from the beginning and currently in the ascendency is that Hegel did not mean it when he claimed that he summed up all philosophy. Interpreters are repelled by such grandiosity. Hegel has no time for philosophical modesty. He was the Napoleon of the Spirit. Now, whether with Waterloo or Elba in mind, the interpreter thinks of this as tragic or comic. In any event, Hegel risks everything and insists that all philosophies are stepping stones to his.
  3. Perhaps we should take the ludic Zizek’s interpretation of Hegel no more seriously than generally he takes himself. Yet, it must be admitted that it is difficult not to cheer when he sideswipes analytic philosophy’s sanitized rendering of a Hegel who unites Sellars and Kant while going beyond both. Accept or reject him, as a thinker Hegel is outsized: at once an epistemologist, a metaphysician, a philosopher of religion and history, a philosopher of art, and a moral and political philosopher.
  4. For a certain kind of person—perhaps someone who as yet does not have a life or is simply thinking of having one—Hegel can easily become an addiction. To learn his idiolect, to unravel his meaning, to track the serpentine path of dialectic that does not submit to a three-beat motion, is a drug that gives a peculiar kind of high. There are no known antidotes. Withdrawal is always painful, and one has to come to accept the fact that one is no longer a “seer.” Given the particularly wounded circumstances of your ordinary Hegelphile, s/he may find that unbearable.
  5. Hegel’s writings are often moved along by metaphors deep enough to fund his argument. Both Christian and classical metaphors sustain the Phenomenology. On the one hand, the itinerary of individual and cultural becoming and development is a via crucis, on the other, it is an odyssey with Ulysses rather than Christ as its regulative figure. Yet, perhaps in the end, despite the image of the chalice brimming with infinity that closes Hegel’s most famous text, the figure of Ulysses is more foundational than that of Christ.
  6. Sometimes Hegel’s dialectical moves are silky smooth, even if a little ghastly. At other times they suggest all the violence of fracking.
  7. Hegel’s insistence on the closure of history was contested within Hegel’s own lifetime and was so for obvious reasons: time goes on, events happen, new meanings get generated, new truths come into being and old truths are revised. Hegel never claimed that time stopped, or events ceased: he was not an apocalypticist with a chiliastic streak. Yet he did say that with his conceptual grid now off the ground his system could account not only for everything that happened but everything that would happen. The outrageous claim, whose daring makes one’s intellect tingle, was rejected by many. Not long afterwards, however, Hegel came to be presented as the thinker who never had said what he actually said. He was a historicist par excellence who recognized that the future will demand new categories of explanation. Thus, the move that internalized a criticism of Hegel and made it a proper interpretation. This sleight of hand, arguably, is the most common one in current Hegel interpretation.
  8. Hegel declared his philosophy of history to be a theodicy despite describing history as a “slaughter bench.” How could the two judgments be squared? If meaning can be extracted from a history that has the pattern of “sound and fury signifying nothing,” then what about the waste? What saves that directly and really and not simply by proxy?
  9. Derrida is the great thinker of the waste or “remains” of the Hegelian system. That which supposedly is excluded is in fact simply covered up. Nonetheless, for a thinker with a nose it can be smelled. In Hegel’s thought it is as if there is a giant sewage plant just off the historical stage incinerating, and chemically and biologically treating the sludge that tells against the meaning and truth of history.
  10. In Hegel’s analysis of history no prophetic note of complaint is struck, nor can we find an echo of the lament of the Psalms.
  11. When history is the last judgment, on behalf of the ground-down, despised, and slaughtered, we move to a judgment of the judgment, the eternal judgment that repeals the judgment of history. Suddenly we find ourselves in the vicinity of either Christian apocalyptic literature or the myth of judgments that astonishingly conclude both the Gorgias and the Republic.
  12. Two main problems attend reading Hegel’s thought as advocating and representing an “open system.” The first is that Hegel consistently and resolutely denies it throughout all his major work from the Difference Essay (1802) on. The second is with the model of Spinoza to the fore Hegel thinks of an “open system” as an oxymoron: a system either explains everything or nothing. Why the repetition then of what is part shibboleth and part wish-fulfillment? It is as if Hegel has the philosophical authority, the interpreter his philosophical ineluctables, and somehow they have to come together in the most rushed and unlikely of marriages.
  13. It is tempting to interpret Hegel’s “absolute knowledge” as a form of Faustianism. If, however, we think of Faust as the drive rather than the accomplishment of knowledge, then we have established the basic difference in type.
  14. Was Hegel, who wrote the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, himself an encyclopedist? Now, as a philosopher, Hegel agreed with the obscure and sibylline Heraclitus that “deep knowing” is better than “much knowing.” To the degree to which the encyclopedia was regarded as a kind of compendium of knowledge that could be continually added to, he rejected it. Still, there can be no denying that by most standards Hegel is an extraordinarily learned philosopher. We might, however, want to ask how learned? If we ask this question, we discover that there are oceanic gaps. One example: Hegel seems to know little about philosophy and theology between the third and the sixteenth centuries. Why is this?
  15. Simone de Beauvoir famously asked “should we burn de Sade?” and proceeded to equivocate. Were I to ask the same question to Hegel, I would definitely say no. It is true that, as Camus divined, both their oeuvres are colossal mistakes. Still, it is important to note the differences. Sade’s faux novels and encyclopedic manuals of how to desecrate human beings can only corrupt us, whereas it is possible that we may learn from Hegel’s massive overreaching. With Sade and Hegel we are dealing with two very different kinds of temptations. In the case of Sade we are dealing with the temptation towards malice. In the case of Hegel we are dealing with the illness of the spirit, an intention vaguely noble in spirit that wants to move beyond the pathos of the flesh. Hegel succeeds in doing so with disastrous consequences.
  16. Aside from theological types whom no one in our non-reading century reads, the two keenest interpretations of Hegel in the nineteenth century are provided by Feuerbach and Kierkegaard respectively. In what has to be regarded as a thoroughly positive assessment Feuerbach reveals that the “secret” of Hegel is anthropology, the divinized collective human subject. This he does by stamping out Hegel’s equivocation when talking about Spirt as to whether he is talking about God or human being and cleverly showing that read carefully Hegel has already told us he is really talking about the latter. Kierkegaard’s assessment is entirely negative. He proceeds by indirection rather than direction. More specifically, he wages guerilla warfare on the Hegelian system. His weapons of choice are irony and satire, served over a bed of sarcasm.
  17. Feuerbach skillfully and remorselessly demonstrates that Hegel’s affirmation of Christian beliefs in the creation, incarnation, redemption, Church, and the afterlife are merely apparent and that the philosopher as philosopher actually believes otherwise. Christian beliefs are myths, albeit useful myths that instruct us in our frailties, assets, and aspirations. Happily, history is a pedagogy and modernity the moment when we unveil the secret of the divine who was always ourselves.
  18. Feuerbach is famous for having taught us that in Hegel’s speculative dialectics the divine is simply a projection of the collective human essence or species. In this regard he anticipates Freud. More: he makes Freud essentially belated. Feuerbach, however, makes the argument in an interesting way, indeed, one that uses Hegel against himself. When Hegel deals with the proposition “God is Love” he tells us that while ordinary logic would have God as the real as well as grammatical subject and love as the adjectival qualifier, the so-called qualifier is the real subject. Without the qualifier “Love” God is empty, really nothing at all. Love, of course, is the unity of all parts and all opposites including and even especially nature and human beings. Hegel says God is nothing without the world. Feuerbach only slightly revised the statement: what we have called God up until now is really the world as universum, the world as a whole.
  19. If we were to sum up Kierkegaard’s fundamental objection to Hegel it would be that Hegel has substituted a counterfeit of Christianity that the Danish public have bought into through the ministrations of Hegel epigones such as Heiberg and Martensen. Kierkegaard’s uncontrolled animus towards such epigones has sometimes provided cover for interpreters of Kierkegaard anxious to deny that the distance between him and Hegel is as radical as it might first seem. Two things should be kept in mind: first, often enough Kierkegaard seems to criticize Hegel quite directly; second, the point about going after epigones is that in addition to unveiling their derivative status, he wants to hit Hegel’s system at its conceptual base of “dialectic,” “mediation,” “reconciliation,” and immanent world-historical consummation. To think otherwise is not to understand the extent of Kierkegaard’s ambition. To be better than locals such as Heiberg and Martensen would amount to abject failure. He wants to take down the Napoleon of the Spirit and banish him to Elba.
  20. When it comes to the basic tenets of Christianity it is not only that Kierkegaard denies what Hegel affirms, in fact he refuses to recognize Hegel’s presentation as Christian. The God of Christianity is indeed a God of Love, but because love is God’s love, it is terrible and involves the terrifying dimension of judgment. The appearance of Christ is not only the event in history, but one which cannot be conceptualized even after the fact. Specifically, Christ is not the example of the conjunction between the infinite and finite that can be generalized to all human beings. Christ is an absolute singularity, and as such an absolute paradox.
  21. For Kierkegaard Hegel is a genius when it comes to charting the topography of concepts and complex relations, and an idiot when it comes to unveiling states of consciousness. Kierkegaard has a vast canvas on which to name our variable moods, forms of anxiety and despair, dream states, idle aspirations, and will to power, and when not addressing such moods he lays them bare through figures and scenes. Perhaps it is not quite accurate to say that Kierkegaard is indicting Hegel of being an idiot when it comes to his ability to understand psychic states, since what he seems to want to put on record is that our very selves are idiotic. Perhaps it is more accurate to say then that he thinks Hegel is an imbecile.
  22. Kierkegaard thinks that it is incomprehensible to think of a Christianity functioning without the doctrine of sin. Sin is washed out of Hegel’s philosophical system and at least scrubbed by the Danish Hegelians. For Hegel sin is either the failure of reason to exert itself or a partial view taken as if it were the full view. It is not pride, that is, standing on one’s own and thus irreparably apart from God.
  23. The great Danish thinker thought that Hegel did not comprehend death. As we live in the moment the world is round. As we move towards our end the world is flat and we fall over the edge.
  24. What we would like Kierkegaard to have said: Hegel is a lover of Theseus the founder of Athens. He would have us believe that we are all heroes like him who escapes the labyrinth by holding on to Ariadne’s thread. Two very obvious objections: very few (if any) of us are Theseus, and again when we think of labyrinth, perhaps the thread was never really long enough or it frayed and snapped so long ago as to be immemorial. What does this say about Hegelian dialectic?
  25. Kierkegaard thought that Hegel was never Aristotelian enough when it counted, that is, when the issue was an issue of logic or an issue of time. Why then pawn off Aristotle’s self-thinking thought for the Christian hope for the afterlife of presence with God? While the logic of the hope is murky, its foundation is Christ.
  26. It is not wrong to claim that in Protestant thought Hegel essentially rediscovered the central importance of the doctrine of the Trinity. He compensated for what had long been a lack of attention, and importantly corrected Kant and Schleiermacher, the former justifying its marginalization on moral grounds, the latter justifying its marginalization on experiential grounds. In this respect, twentieth century thought owes him a huge debt. One thinks especially of Barth, Moltmann, Jüngel, and Pannenberg. Whether Hegel’s articulation remotely conforms to the orthodox view of one essence and three persons is put in question when Hegel expressly denies it in the Phenomenology and Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. Hegel speaks of three moments and one divine subject that dynamically develops. This seems to be a form of Sabellianism with a decidedly modern developmental valence.
  27. Throughout Hegel’s entire work there is no mention of the traditional authorities on the Trinity: thus no Augustine, Nazianzen, or Aquinas. No mention also of Luther, Calvin, nor other Protestant theologians. When it comes to the Trinity, the thinkers Hegel mentions are Jacob Boehme (theosophist), Philo of Alexandria, and Valentinus. This goes beyond well beyond a thinker keeping strange company.
  28. Hegel only appears to countenance the immanent-economic Trinity distinction. There really is not not any immanent Trinity as such. The realm of the divine prior to enactment in creation, redemption, and sanctification is not a triune divine, but a sketch of a single divine subject that becomes truly real only in the economy. Because the emphasis falls so heavily on the economy, one could think of Hegel as articulating an economic Trinity. This is not inaccurate as long as we understand that unlike most species of economic Trinitarianism Hegel is not advising that we would do better to focus on the works of the Trinity rather than on the unity of essence and plurality of persons. He is making ontological claims about how the divine becomes divine in and through its actions.
  29. Without exception texts such as the Phenomenology, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, and the Encyclopaedia fundamentally deny the standard Christian formulations of the doctrine of creation as a free gift from God for which God has nothing to gain, the world everything. In contrast, Hegel claims that creation is necessary and God has a lot to gain from the creation of the world. Indeed, without the world God would not really be God, would only have a virtual reality. It is only a little hyperbolic to say that without the world God is nothing.
  30. Although Hegel’s early theological writings written in the 1790s (published only in the twentieth century) are replete with biblical quotations, almost as soon as Hegel launches his brilliant philosophical career biblical references all but disappear with the obvious exception of Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. In that text, Hegel makes a statement that would have scandalized any Church-going Lutheran: the Bible is a wax nose capable of any impression. We are a very long way from Luther’s insistence on the literal sense and the power of the Bible to interpret itself. Still, it might be observed here—as in the other bon mots one finds in Hegel—that Hegel steals it from someone else.
  31. One of the most startling interpretations of a biblical passage in Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion is Hegel’s interpretation of the Fall story in Genesis 3. In his treatment of the temptation and Adam’s ignoring of the injunction not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Hegel comments that the serpent told the truth: in and through the trespass human being took on the mantle of divinity. Throughout the history of Christianity, the only group of interpreters who read Genesis 3 in this way were the Gnostics.
  32. While Hegel had little time for sin, he had a great deal of time for evil. Evil is the term appropriate for the entire world considered as the opposite of God. The correlation of evil and finitude made by the Gnostics is denounced by Irenaeus. A similar correlation made by the Manichaeans is repeatedly denounced by Augustine over a twenty-year period.
  33. One of the more interesting things about Hegel is just when we believe we can coast in our reading of him he surprises us. For instance, when he associates evil and the finite world he could have used Leibniz’s notion of physical evil as metaphysical lack as a starting point and gone on from there. That is not what he does. In the Phenomenology and Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion the appeal is to Jacob Boehme’s thinking of Lucifer as the origin and basis of the finite order. The world is evil not because it lacks the perfection of the divine, but because it is the other locked in a struggle with the divine.
  34. Hegel speaks in Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion of the monstrousness of Christ. Here as elsewhere Hegel really does not mean what he says. Christ does not so much defy reason as prompt the modern Christian to enlarge it sufficiently so that the mind can see how incompatibles really belong together. Seeing how this works with respect to Christ means, of course, that we see how it works with regard to us and by extension the rest of reality.
  35. In Hegel’s reflections on “the death of God” there is something strangely oedipal about the relation between Father and Son. The Father must die in order for the Son to be. Moreover, it should be noted that it is never really made clear whether the Son is Christ or the world.
  36. Hegel does not put the figure of Prometheus into circulation in the way Goethe and Marx do. In his treatment of the relation between God as transcendent creator and legislator and the Son who is the exemplar of divine humanity, the figure is at least a penumbra. It is fair to say with Blumenberg that Hegel did not forget Goethe’s famous poem on the figure (1776).
  37. Fashionable admirers of Hegel in theology love to point to him as a thinker of kenosis. What they rarely admit, however, is that in texts such as the Phenomenology and Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion the kenosis of Philippians 2:6-11 becomes a trope. Two deviations are worth particular mention. First, Hegel extends “emptying” beyond the relation between the Father and Christ both to the intra-trinitarian divine and the relationship between the divine and the world. Second, the emptying is not really an emptying, but really a filling: it is the means by which God becomes God.
  38. It is not a little interesting that when Hegel wants to underscore the phenomenon of “emptying” as “filling,” he points to very odd sources. The German mystic, Jacob Boehme, is his go-to. In a move that stretches our minds, he also suggests that read creatively Gnosticism provides a precedent.
  39. Hegel continues and develops Kant’s substitution of the invisible church of rational believers for the historical church of faith. In his mature works Hegel shows himself somewhat more anxious than Kant was to mediate between the historical Church and what he calls the “spiritual community.” He does so by appeal to the Eucharist as the real presence of Christ which, however, needs to be received by the community. Interpreted thus, the Eucharist provides the basic metaphor also for divine presence in public life and society. If the form of Kant’s secularity here is replacement, that of Hegel is sublation. The historical Church is not so much dismissed as refigured as the sketch and shadow of the secular.
  40. While as a person Hegel could be jovial in a passing sort of way, as a philosopher the last thing a reader would accuse Hegel of is having a sense of humor. Humor there is, however, although admittedly all of it is accidental. One of these outbreaks has to be Hegel’s consideration of worship. Hegel acknowledges the importance of worship in religions in general and in Christianity in particular where it has either a transcendent God or Christ as its object. Instead of dismissing worship as superstition, as was the common line in the Enlightenment, Hegel says that Christians who worship do not really understand what they are doing. When they rise to speculative thought they will understand that they are truly worshiping themselves as thinkers. He has no sense that in biblical Christianity this posture has been denounced as idolatry.
  41. It is a plain fact that Hegel never said anything positive about either Judaism or Catholicism. He inherits the pattern from Kant and in turn adds a further German precedent which Nietzsche and Heidegger are only too happy to follow. In the Phenomenology Judaism is the basic form of “unhappy consciousness,” Roman Catholicism a further specification. Unhappy consciousness is paradigmatically a dualistic worldview in which God is the absolute sovereign being who lords it over human beings who experience themselves as worthless by comparison. Catholicism adds a second species of alienation when it gets fixated on either the historical Jesus or the host.
  42. Hegel’s most sustained expression of anti-Judaism occurs in his early so-called theological writings. Interestingly, though the systematic attack is against the phenomenon of Mosaic Law, it is Hegel’s riff on the titular founder of Judaism that is more memorable. Abraham is the one who invents the God who is not a God of the tribe but of the nations and at one fell swoop evacuates all sense of pride in self and all sense of belonging. Abraham is in effect the prototype of the medieval figure of the wandering Jew.
  43. In contradistinction to Saint Paul Abraham is not the type but the antitype of Christ. Kierkegaard is Pauline when he elevates Abraham as the Christian figure of faith.
  44. Apologists for Hegel claim that in the 1827 version of the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Hegel essentially repents of his anti-Judaism and presents a view of Judaism as a religion of providence and world affirmation. They have been duped. They fail to notice the bait-and-switch. The Neoplatonism of Philo Alexandria has been substituted for biblical Judaism.
  45. Positive interpretations of Hegel have come from Jews. Ernst Bloch, Franz Rosenzweig, and Emil Fackenheim provide good examples. More often than not, however, Jews have been Hegel’s most searing critics. Think Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Adorno, Levinas, and Derrida.
  46. There is a Gospel injunction to love your enemy. Now, your enemy is the one who hates you. There can be no doubt that Hegel hates Catholicism. It is an authoritarian and superstitious form of Christianity that subverts what Christianity was intended to be. Christianity is fully realized in the Reformation, which in turn is the foundation of the secular world. Unfortunately, Catholicism has the bad manners of continuing to exist. To the extent to which it does, on Hegelian grounds, Catholicism, like Judaism, is an anachronism. Catholicism is the major inhibitor of the secular age. The trick for Catholic readers is how to bear with Hegel while continuing to love themselves.
  47. How to avoid hating ourselves as Catholic when as anxious intellects we become readers of Hegel. How to read Taylor who as a Catholic agrees that Luther realizes the fundamental idea of Christianity that is the foundation of the secular age. Of course, even here we are dealing with a very odd construction: no Luther of radical heteronomy, no Luther who calls reason a whore. Perhaps really no Luther, as is the case in Hegel himself.
  48. Catholic encounter with Hegel begins in his own lifetime in his students and in and through reception in Catholic theologians such as C. H. Weisse (1801-1866), Anton Gunther (1783-1863), and F. A. Staudenmaier (1800-1856). After an early romance all three fell out of love with Hegel. The lesson to be drawn from this is not necessarily that of Joseph Kleutgen (1811-1883), which is essentially let the dead bury the dead. The dead are never dead, they return as ghosts and specters. We will have to deal with them. We have no choice in our bedazzled world but to take the chance.
  49. Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century provide the full measure of options for reading Hegel. Pryzwara and Balthasar read Hegel appreciatively but negatively; the neo-Thomist Fabro reads him very negatively; Kung reads him positively; in mid-century Wahl and Fessard straddle the fence, as later do Chappelle and Bruaire. Then there is Brito, Taylor, and Desmond. There is thus no consensus Catholic view.
  50. Should Catholics read Hegel? Once again, yes. Just as long as we understand not only that there are other thinkers to wrestle with, and other religious thinkers to sustain on the journey that will almost certainly have a cruciform pattern. As Catholics we are all on the seas of storm-tossed modernity. The Catholic ship is heavier and thus lower in the water than most. There are whisperings everywhere of jettisoning. Hegel is one of these voices. His voice is old, confident, and persuasive about not only how much we jettison, but how and when. We trust him more than the shrill voices who would leave us with nothing. He is seductive. He does not promise us much, but it is more than the others. Should we listen to him, we will likely find when it is all over we have a vague memory of whom we once were, even if an addled one. In a world of necessarily lowered expectations, that is something, is it not?

Hegel’s Circumfession: Or Hegel’s Confession in His Own and Another’s Words

  1. To this day I remember the time—I must have been eleven—when I woke up in the pitch black in a night terror. I had been dreaming of a giant spider weaving a colossal web bundling everything up as food. It was a cold Easter. My mother and father must have been too tired to hear the screams. I remember being fascinated enough to want to get back into the dream. I did. I marveled at the spider’s patience and stealth and the mathematical elegance of web spinning catch and destroy. I never looked directly into its many eyes. I did think of them as old and impassive, and for one moment in a side-glance I thought I caught my own reflection.
  2. I admit to being Bavarian uncouth. I like my beer too much and when it comes to my native tongue have a penchant for neologisms, to which the German language is peculiarly suited. I admit that sometimes I get carried away when I speak and spray. When teaching I neither scandalize nor seduce. I speculate fathoms deep over dunderheads most days, but my reputation is such that they stay.
  3. I wish to avoid the appearance of gloating. I must admit that sometimes when I walk the streets in Berlin around the university, Schelling, the German Icarus, comes to mind. His wings are melted and he has fallen to the ground. No one mentions him anymore. He had no method, no road, and thus no destination. He and I, the tortoise and the hare? Sometimes in a flash of memory he brings Holderlin back with him. My once friend broken on the wheel of life gone to the refuge of nonsense of madness. I vigorously disagree with those who say that the human house has many mansions, and that madness is one of its places and one of its logics.
  4. Ambition, focus, and work. I toiled in the Gymnasium day after day with those future leaders who are at best memory machines and at worst philistines. Despite the drudgery of it all, I honed my method. Without those grey on grey hours in which there was but a merest drizzle of satisfaction I could not have produced or reproduced the map of coordinates whereby we know all in all.
  5. I am convinced that the enlighteners are wrong and that we should not banish God from our public discourse. Still, when speaking of God we should lean into science and even more recall our fidelity to the world that is nothing less than divine. The Greeks intuited this, and maybe Spinoza did in our modern world. Spinoza is a riddle. Sometimes I think of him as an atomist, at others a monist. I must confess that on a few occasions, especially after a few beers, I have thought of him even as some kind of mystic, albeit one who boldly emphasizes the expansiveness of reason.
  6. Last night was a bad night. As I got cheerily drunk I sang a number of bawdy Bavarian songs. Not sure what my young admirers thought. Anyway, for what it is worth, for me transcendence does not lie beyond. It is the bulge in immanence that prevents immanence being flat.
  7. I do not belong among the sophists. I am neither suave nor svelte, nor can I duck and feint like a diplomatic. After a long apprenticeship I invented a philosophical system that everyone wants to understand but no one actually does. This wanting is the fuel of my reputation and fills the auditorium in the university of Berlin. Who could have guessed that I would become the modern philosopher-king, maybe even the philosopher-king of modernity.
  8. I would be lying if I denied that sometimes I feel intimidated by Kant. He is wrong on so much that you would think that he should be a mere footnote in the history of philosophy. Yet unlike Schelling and others, he always seems to be wrong in such vigorous and interesting ways that he takes the shine off you being right. I have tried, but have not succeeded in conquering him.
  9. It is autumn. The light is lovely, and the leaves are turning and starting to fall. I am musing about how I will be remembered. Will I be remembered as the Aristotle of the Germans? If so, who will be the German Plato? Will it be Kant? Could I not be Plato too?
  10. I am a pleasant enough fellow unless you have grievously wounded my pride. I’ve got to say, however, that when I hear some of my students insist that there can be no closure to history I am not simply disappointed, I am nearly apoplectic. I say “nearly” because I reserve real derangement to those who would speak about “open system.” If they want an “open system” read Fichte who is the great peddler of the oxymoron. It is Fichte who insists that you cannot close the loop of conceptuality however you try. The basic figure of his philosophy is the pathetic Sisyphus. History will be the judge. I am confident that in mathematics as well as philosophy the conjunction of consistency and completeness will be vindicated in the future.
  11. I sometimes feel bad about it, the various jibes at Schelling’s expense: of his precocity, “he educated himself in public”; of his Identity-philosophy, “the night in which all cows are black.” I just wanted the public to know that this Bavarian was not only profound but had a kind of literary edge. Someone has come forward recently and suggested that the second jibe is a plagiarism. This is inaccurate, although it may be true that not every word is my own.
  12. My wife—though sometimes she is a little over-zealous—is right to insist to the skeptics that I am a believing Lutheran and not an atheist. I celebrate his birthday as I celebrate the fall of the Bastille, and I extoll when and where I can Luther’s council regarding the merits of the ordinary life of marriage, money, and the state. I not only welcome, but have developed Luther’s view of the priesthood of all believers and refigured it as the operative principle of democracy.
  13. What is it with this generation when it comes to Christianity. Nothing but invocations of mystery and the mystical, of unknowability and unsayability. This is the most shallow of understandings. Christianity is not the worship of the Unknown God. It is the religion of revelation. It just takes a little patience and—if I might be so bold—some familiarity with my philosophical system to understand it.
  14. Why this blessed rage for order when order is so at hand? Push aside feeling, bury your aspirations for intuition, the intoxication of the salto mortale, and the love affair with protest by throwing yourself into the volcano. Read slow, trudge in prose, and you will find the way. I promise.
  15. I have publicly stated that Jews should be granted civil rights. Yet that does not mean that their religion is not an abomination, that their commandments are not oppressive, that their wrathful capricious God is not an irradicable objection, and their figuration of a nomadic Abraham who has no homeland a cautionary tale. I recommend without reserve that we allow the Jew to be the subject of the state while thinking his religion a religion of slaves and its very existence in modernity an anachronism. Out of the limelight, there are times when I think I might have to revise my philosophy of history, since it does not allow anachronisms or specters. Judaism is both. If I could get my head around Islam, I might have to say that it is an anachronism too. Maybe not only a different anachronism, but a different kind of anachronism than Judaism, maybe an anachronism of an anachronism, a specter of a specter.
  16. It goes without saying that Catholicism is an anachronism and does not belong to the secular world that it seems fated to haunt. I have enough to do with the main thoroughfare of history, do not expect me to account for the side roads and the crypts. Especially the crypts.
  17. I know a number of Catholics and though I think personal relations can be overvalued, I have found one or two of them congenial. The same, however, cannot be said of their brand of Christianity—if indeed we can call it that. Protestant polemicists tell us all what we need to know about a reality that is too much with us as it enacts the marriage between political connivance and theological contrivance that stress the “other world” rather than this one. While I would not put it into print—there are Catholic auditors to my lectures on the philosophy of religion—I am more than a little inclined to say that Luther was right when he called the Pope the anti-Christ.
  18. I have been to Catholic Masses and have even heard good homilies. That is all I remember. Catholics and the host? Transubstantiation? What to say?: Catholics are sublime fetishists.
  19. Voltaire gets it wrong when he blames the priests for the belief of the laity. The laity are happy in their obedience and their tormented groveling. When he writes about them I want to ask why are the priests always so rich? I saw some Capuchins outside the Cathedral at (was it Strasburg?) and they were dirty. There is something about Catholics and hygiene.
  20. The analogy between Judaism and Catholicism readily suggests itself. Both worship a God who as creator and lawgiver radically transcends the world, have priests to tell what and how to sacrifice to appease the wrathful divine, and moralists to tell us what to do. Sometimes I feel that Catholicism is a rare species of the Jewish Christianity of the Ebionites, albeit one that elevates its Jewish savior to the divine and luxuriates in mystification.
  21. When I was in the seminary at Tubingen I could not get my hands on Catholic material. Now that I am at Berlin, where the library houses many philosophical and medieval texts—Including I believe the collected works of Aquinas—I have no interest. Best not to give the Middle Ages any credence. It has almost gone away.
  22. Although I have sometimes been referred to as “the Protestant Aquinas” I find no satisfaction in the parallel. Aquinas was a compiler of authorities, not a philosopher. He talked about everything and challenged nothing. Moreover, the Scholastic method is discursive rather than speculative and is beholden to Aristotle’s outdated logic. I greatly prefer Anselm to him, although truth be told I only know his ontological argument from a primer. I have used him against Kant. Of course, he is a proxy for Spinoza whom everyone is afraid of once again.
  23. I will never forgive Jacobi. He was a climber who ruined pantheism for us all.
  24. Of course, there were no miracles, but if there were Meister Eckhart would be one of them. Franz von Baader—who now apparently attacks me as a pantheist—introduced me to his writings. They are truly spectacular. I would say astonishingly speculative. How different from what one finds in the Scholastics. There are no miracles, but it is as if time had bent and he was but decades ago beckoning me or even my contemporary.
  25. I am being playful—my sons Karl and Immanuel know this about me—but could we not say that Meister Eckhart is a Protestant thinker? Joachim too?
  26. I can understand how Kant was friends with Mendelssohn the Jew. They both elevated law and thought they could line it up with reason. What happened was that they lined law up with the wrong kind of reason thereby guaranteeing that autonomy was impugned.
  27. Kant’s personal order is impressive, though I wonder did he ever have a drink. That is not what really worries me about him, rather it is the fact of him being single. Luther thought celibacy deformed faith, which begets the question does it deform philosophy? If I were not so busy with the affairs of State I might track the answer down.
  28. Romantics object that a “happy marriage” is an oxymoron. I would suggest to the contrary that it is a pleonasm. Once you understand that marriage is a dampening down of desire with a corresponding elevation in social position you know it is the privilege of the content. Romantics are not made for happiness.
  29. If seeing Napoleon at Jena was seeing a world-historical individual, meeting with Goethe was like meeting a god. He was the perfection of manners, prodigious energy wrinkling the smooth talk about nature, color, and the Greeks. He was patient when I discussed speculation with him and underscored the etymology of mirror. What was marvelous in him was the complete correspondence of language and thought. It is possible that the reason for this is that his thought is of a lower rank. Yet in his presence I increasingly observed the gap in my own performance, as if I were the mere stammering of the dialectical system I orchestrate and that has chosen me to be its mouthpiece.
  30. Yes, Holderlin was a beautiful soul, the most beautiful of them all. I do not mean that as a compliment. In the beautiful soul a shadow falls between the aim and the action, the possibility and the realization. However you look at it, the beautiful soul is not made for here.
  31. Classical literature and Shakespeare disclose that the life of a bastard is unbearably sad. I have two sons and a bastard Ludwig whom I never see. What can be done? Nothing. Obviously. As with the poor, the bastard will also be with us.
  32. Why do philosophers object so much to the proposition “the real is the rational and the rational is the real”? They decry the proposition as a vicious tautology that repeats the injustice done to the victims. What to say? History is the final judgment. If ought hangs like the sword of Damocles over history, it is made of rubber.
  33. I believe that everything will be saved, since everything has a core of significance. You simply separate the kernel from the husk. As for the husk, you should not care about the husk keening and ululating like Macbeth’s three sisters both in and outside history.
  34. With our explosion of excellence in literature and music I think the Germans have shown the world that culture which is only culture is Roman and thus indistinguishable from decadence. Culture to be truly alive must be tinctured with barbarism.
  35. I am convinced that the linguistic arts are superior to painting and music in their capacity to disclose the real. I am not a person given to doubts. When I entertain that I could be wrong, it is music I think of, especially its ability to create a feeling you know is real but cannot really name. When I think of my death and the possible unraveling of my system I fear that the preference for music may be a large part of the unraveling.
  36. After the Reformation, the French Revolution is the decisive event of modernity. The terror and Robespierre are a loop of nonsense that eventually will get smoothed out.
  37. Germany has to go forward. It is not wrong to speak, however, of the relation between the German culture and that of the Greeks. We and not the Romans are their inheritors. The Romans are borrowers. We go beyond them. I am not sure Holderlin grasped this. It is madness to allow ancient Greece to judge us.
  38. The world moves from East to West. As it does, it moves from the incomprehensible to the comprehensible. What are the prospects of regression? Of drowning in an unmanageable infinity? What are the prospects of what has been overcome returning and dimming our consciousness? Our German specialists in oriental languages make me think of this. Some nights I have an uneasy feeling that the black water of another kind of consciousness is rising, if, indeed, it is consciousness at all. Maybe that shape-shifter Schelling was on to something after all.
  39. I cannot make sense of Shakespeare. He is English when he should be German. He belongs to the Renaissance when he is modern. I cannot fully shake the feeling that he is in bed with Catholics. Or in bed. My apologies. Frau Hegel warned me about such talk.
  40. Frau Hegel tells me that it is not good for my health to get so angry when I am called a conservative in the radical newspapers. Do they not know what I have said about the economy? Why do they object so much to what I say about the state as the site of moral evaluation. Otherwise, there is nothing that would prevent the economy from running amuck and happy family life dissolving into licentiousness, with wives taking on lovers and perhaps even becoming communal property.
  41. Question: what is the difference between the poet and the philosopher? Answer: the philosopher reads the newspaper.
  42. Students at the University of Berlin think of Schleiermacher and me as competitors. I think of us as colleagues reserving the appropriate social distance. In any event, Schleiermacher is merely a theologian who has made himself the servant of a tradition. In contrast, I am the servant of the absolute, which means that I have no master, and certainly not a God beyond the world who provokes a feeling of absolute dependence. I attacked Schleiermacher by proxy when I wrote a review of a book of one of his admirers, Hinrichs. I chuckled when I wrote that if Hinrichs is right about Christian faith and dependence, then the best Christian is a dog. I read the passage out to my wife when Immanuel was in the room. I think she thought it was a bit too harsh. Immanuel asked did the dog bark?
  43. It is not even close. I attract far more students than Schleiermacher.
  44. Berlin is darker than usual this winter. I think I will have a good death, since I have had a good life. My work will stand. Someone will say that it is pagan rather than Christian. I do not care. Nor do I really grasp what they mean when they talk about an encounter with God who judges. That is the religion of images and representations. My death is the seal on my reputation.
  45. My death is not mine. It is an accidental happening to an accident revealing the accident to be an accident. Why then am I so afraid? Why is it that I now appear as a question without an available answer?
  46. The afterlife is a fiction. I am happy enough to be buried a Lutheran, even if the funeral will fall short of the philosophical point of view. It would be intolerable to be on the receiving end of a Catholic Requiem.
  47. I am dreaming of the spider again. I cannot make out the color or maybe there is more than one color in its many eyes. Sometimes I think I see emerald. Mostly I see indigo.

Featured Image: Taken by Herr Kriss in 2011, Stained-glass of spider in St. Mary's Church, Katowice; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD.

Author

Cyril O'Regan

Cyril O'Regan is the Catherine F. Huisking Chair in Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His latest book is the first installment of a multi-volume intellectual history of Gnosticism in modernity, The Anatomy of Misremembering, Volume 1: Hegel.

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