- The First German Philosopher: The Mysticism of Jakob Böhme as Interpreted by Hegel by Cecilia Muratori
Cecilia Muratori’s book is a major contribution to scholarship on the Romantic Age and idealistic philosophy. Jakob Böhme is a thinker of great importance within the German tradition, but is so dense and difficult that he is very hard to study without proper and expert guidance. Muratori has exceeded expectations in her lucid, imaginative, and brilliant exposition of Böhme’s thought in relation to Hegel and, indeed, the modern age. Hegel not only regarded Böhme as a writer of philosophical genius, but also as the beginning of German philosophy. This book explains why. The priority here is no temporal accident. The designation is also a tribute to the proleptic power of the Silesian cobbler. Hegel’s attribution is tied to his view of Böhme as a thinker of genuine “inwardness” and with an [End Page 369] essentially dialectical approach in his thought, and thus a genuine forerunner of genuinely speculative thought.
Richard H. Popkin wrote of the “Third Force” in order to highlight the influence of a mode of apocalyptic-mystical speculation that exerted enormous influence and yet is hard to integrate within the familiar terrain of early modern rationalists and empiricists. The influences of the Cabbala on Böhme constitute instances of such a third force. The distance of such theorizing from mainstream philosophy encourages many to postulate an esoteric or theosophic tradition. Muratori’s book is a brilliant exercise in retrieving Böhme as a philosophical thinker, however erratic and idiosyncratic, through the lens of Hegel’s mature philosophical system. In this way, Böhme is neither the murky preserve of the esotericists nor the object of disdain, and is rescued for a proper analysis, recovery, and appreciation of the legitimate philosophical significance of this difficult and often unfathomable writer. When one considers the legacy of Böhme in the nineteenth century, far beyond the influence of Hegel’s thought narrowly construed, the value of Muratori’s work becomes especially evident.
This book is a translation of an Italian thesis, the monograph Il primo filosofo Tedesco. Il misticismo di Jakob Böhme nell’ interpretation hegeliana (Pisa, 2012). This was researched to a large degree in Jena, and was completed in Munich. The translation is eminently readable, which is perhaps somewhat surprising given the perplexing qualities of both Hegel and Böhme. Unlike both her authors, Muratori is able to write with great concision and clarity. She also exhibits a profound knowledge of both Böhme and Hegel, together with a very accurate understanding of German.
The first German Philosopher explores a significant puzzle in the history of philosophy. The writings of Böhme have unquestionably exerted a considerable influence upon Western philosophy. Yet the obscure nature of Böhme’s writing, his candid ignorance about his rather rudimentary education, and scholarly naïveté, makes this influence both puzzling and problematic. In Muratori we have a sympathetic, lucid, and not uncritical guide.
One of the striking contributions of this work is the extremely thorough account of Hegel’s view of mysticism and his contrast between mysticism as speculation and the alleged bogus mysticism of F. W. A. von Schelling and the romantics, a distinction that can be traced to Phenomenology of Spirit. Another striking aspect of the work is Muratori’s nuanced and adept discussion of the Neoplatonic dimension in both Böhme and Hegel.
The book is clearly structured. The first chapter sets the scene by presenting the immediate context of Hegel’s reception of Böhme in Germany, and especially Jena. Muratori brilliantly puts the Hegelian reception of Böhme into the heady Sitz im Leben of the romantic reception of Böhme, especially in the Jena circle around Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel. She also considers the role of Naturphilosophie and pietism in the transmission of Böhme’s...