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  • Neo-Hegelian Theology as Process Theodicy and Socialist Idealism
  • Gary Dorrien (bio)

My commitment to a religious idealism that emphasizes struggle and tragedy, accepts liberationist criticism, and espouses democratic socialist politics shapes what I take from Hegel and Paul Tillich. Hegel is both alien to me and distinctly the thinker with whom I am never done. Karl Marx and Søren Kierkegaard scored against Hegel by emphasizing the situation of the knower, but both were one-sided compared to Hegel. Emmanuel Levinas scored against Hegel by railing against the constraints of ontology and upholding the priority of the ethical, but antiontology is still a form of ontology, mirroring what it repudiates, with no basis for claiming to know anything. Levinas repeated Kierkegaard's experience of mirroring what he denounced, which was, at bottom, the very commitment of philosophy to find the truth. Hegel had a better idea by relating God and the world dialectically, preserving unity and difference with a tragic sensibility that caught the infinite love-anguish of Calvary. Tillich caught some of Hegel's best tropes while assuming too much the Right Hegelian reading of Hegel and the Marxian critique of ethical socialism.

All these conclusions depend on which Hegel is in view, and there are many different interpretations to consider. The long-dominant one is the closed-system Hegel described in countless textbooks, Kierkegaard and the later Friedrich Schelling, every Right Hegelian from Philip Marheineke to Stanley Rosen, the analytic tradition headed by Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, and the doyens of postmodern criticism—Derrida, Levinas, and Gilles Deleuze. On this view, Hegel developed an absolute idealistic metaphysics based on Kant's transcendental ego, Aristotle's final causation, and Hegel's logical mill, identifying thought with sense and being. His system was his logic, a panlogical teleology into which he folded all of history. Even if Hegel discovered social subjectivity—which is rarely recognized in this reading—his thought was too panlogical to make room for real subjectivity. Hegel's monist teleological ontology was a totalizing shell lacking any room for real difference or contingency; thus, Hegelian "difference" is really sameness.1 [End Page 7]

The second historical school of interpretation began with Left Hegelians in the 1830s and was refashioned by Left Hegelians in the 1930s. David Friedrich Strauss originated the Left Hegelian tradition in 1835 by contending that Hegel had devised a radical theological basis for a new Christianity, albeit with pious encumbrances, which Strauss eliminated. In the early 1840s Bruno Bauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Arnold Ruge said Strauss did not go far enough, for Hegelianism makes sense only as post-Christian radical humanism. Young Karl Marx cut his intellectual teeth on this contention, briefly self-identifying as a Left Hegelian. In the 1930s Russian-born French philosopher Alexandre Kojève renewed the atheist Left Hegelian reading by contending that Hegel construed Christianity as an enemy of freedom. Hegel's dialectic of master and slave is the key to Hegelianism, he sought to complete the French Revolution, he conceived Christianity as a form of slavery, and the key to Marxism is Hegel's dialectic, applied to actual history. Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jacques Lacan, and Jean Hyppolite absorbed this argument directly from Kojève in his famous lectures at the École pratique des hautes; Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and Jean-Paul Sartre later joined them in expounding atheistic Hegelian neo-Marxism.2

A latter-day offshoot of the Left Hegelian tradition similarly reduces Hegel to phenomenology, social philosophy, and sometimes logic while dropping Marxian assumptions and apologetics. Here the Hegel that matters is the social philosopher who discovered social subjectivity and theorized about discourse and the struggle for recognition. Some interpreters in this camp contend that Hegel was essentially a post-Kantian or more Kantian than he seemed; some allow that he unfortunately espoused a teleological spirit monism; and some claim that Hegel was a closet humanist who used religious language strategically. However these differences sort out, Hegel remains philosophically relevant for his phenomenology and social philosophy; thus he can still be taught in philosophy departments, shorn of his baleful metaphysics, ontology, and philosophy of nature. Leading proponents of this approach include Terry...


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