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26Historically Speaking · May/June 2004 Past and Present Cross-fertilized Peter Munz I grew up in Germany during the fragile Weimar Republic, watching it reel under the vindictive blows inflicted by the senseless Treaty of Versailles, which was emasculating its idealism as well as its economy. Determined not to join the nationalists and their Nazis who were mindlessly thinking of nothing but revenge, I embraced Marxism as the only realistic and effective alternative. My Marxism was suffused with Platonism. For I understood that Marx's maxim that everybody ought to receive according to his need and contribute according to his ability was a direct reflection of Plato's famous ideal of justice according to which everybody ought to do and receive what was becoming to his nature. My interest in history derived from the Platonic and the Marxist philosophies ofhistory according to which there was, for Plato, a succession of power structures or, for Marx, a succession ofmodes of production each of which determined law, social order, and political constitution. I did not question these philosophies, but began to study history in order to confirm to myself that they were true. It was during those early studies that I happened to be concentrating on the 18th century. I read, in quick succession, Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France and John Locke's Second Treatise. When I discovered the enormous difference between Locke and Burke, I did not give up either Marx or Plato—but my attention began to be deflected. Locke had reasoned that men get together to enter a social contract; and Burke had explained that men are together because of their past and their future and that such togetherness had nothing to do with any voluntary contractual agreement. I will never forget how deeply shaken I was by the realization that two intelligent men could come to such contrary conclusions about human society. It was almost by accident that I noticed that Locke often invoked Richard Hooker, an Elizabethan theologian. In order to deepen myunderstandingofLocke, I started to read and studyHooker's works as well as their context , the Elizabethan Settlement ofthe second halfofthe 16th centuryin England. This led to my first historical discovery. I found out that Locke had taken Hooker's name in vain. Hooker was a truly medieval thinker who used the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas to justifythe religious Settlementunder Queen Elizabeth I. Aquinas had explained how reason and faith are in harmony and why church and state must form one single polity. After writing two-thirds ofhis greatwork, TheLaws ofEcclesiastical Polity, it began to dawn on Hooker that the Elizabethan Settlement was a monarchywhich dominated the church and Peter Munz thatthere was no wayinwhich one could say that the two, in Elizabethan England, were functioning in divinely ordained harmony. With this insight, Hooker stopped writingso that the last part of his great work has remained unfinished. He gave up in despair when, honest thinker that he was, he realized that one cannot square a circle and use Thomism in order to justifywhatwas in reality a form ofsecular monarchy. As I immersed myselfin Hooker's background I began to acquaint myselfnot only with the politics and the society and the theology of Aquinas, but also and above all, began to read so much medieval philosophy that I started to take it very seriously. To my astonishment, I was leaving my preoccupation with Kant and the scientific philosophy of the Vienna Circle behind and started to wonder instead about the great debates surrounding St. Thomas's synthesis ofAristotle and the Bible. In this way I got more and more interested in the earlyMiddle Ages and began to take Christian religion in its medieval form very seriously. I suddenly saw that there was indeed a point in wondering how many angels can dance on the head ofa pin. As an inhabitant of the 20th century I was unable to espouse medieval or any other form ofChristianity, but since I was now taking it very seriously, I realized that it would have to be understood as a mythology. This realization drove me into yet another direction . I began to wonder how mythology in general...


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