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eight The Identity of the State Political Philosophy in Crisis Dooyeweerd developed his political philosophy in response to what he perceived as a serious crisis in the academy and in the polity. The sense of acute cultural and political crisis was widespread in continental Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, and Dooyeweerd’s analysis of it reflects the sense of urgency generated by this climate.1 The crisis in political theory, he­ believed, was not principally theoretical in origin but was an acute expression of a general malaise in social thought, which in turn revealed the deeper spiritual vacuum left by the collapsing humanistic ground­ motive—as the title of his first major work of political theory indicates: The Crisis in the Humanistic Theory of the State.2 Only a few years later Jacques Maritain was to develop a remarkably parallel analysis of the “tragedy of humanism” as the source of the cultural and political crisis.3 The chief characteristic of the crisis was the loss of any notion of the normative structure of the state. Periodic crises in the theory of the state arise whenever a “relativistic” standpoint undermines a belief in an enduring structure of the state.4 It is true that political theory can be said to be in a constant state of crisis insofar as it is not attuned to the divine order for the state. But a distinction can be drawn between, on the one hand, misconceiving the content of the structural principle of the state and, on the other, denying the very notion of any enduring nor156 The Identity of the State 157 mative structure. While critical of fundamental features of the political thought of Plato and Aristotle, Dooyeweerd expresses guarded appreci­ ation of their recognition of a “normative essence” of the state as the indispensable precondition for any empirical investigation of actual states. Although this essence is misconceived as “metaphysical,” he appreciates that Plato and Aristotle “remained free from the prejudice of modern historicistic positivism that looks upon the body politic as a variable historical phenomenon, apart from any normative structural principle.”5 It is the denial of such a normative structure that has occasioned the periodic crises in the theory of the state, and in Dooyeweerd’s view this denial had become widespread and emphatic. Some crises can be productive insofar as they represent transitional stages leading to a new, more normative formation of political life. Perhaps unexpectedly Dooyeweerd here cites Machiavelli’s notion of the state that emerged from and broke through the decaying medieval political framework. Others, however, can be highly destructive, such as the crisis precipitated by the “radical left-wing sophists” that developed in the wake of the decline of Athenian democracy. The theoretical crisis in the modern humanistic theory of the state was of an especially destructive character. Although catalyzed by the crisis in political life after World War I, the theoretical crisis could nevertheless be seen as the inevitable outcome of a long process of religious and philosophical decline.6 The theory of the state in Dooyeweerd’s time had reached an impasse , and there was no possibility of resolving it within a humanistic framework, which allowed no room for any notion of enduring normative structures. In contrast to the political thought of Plato and Aristotle, modern political thought conceived of the state as an “absolutely variable historical phenomenon.”7 This allegation is the core of Dooyeweerd’s assessment of the contemporary crisis in the theory of the state. Contemporary political thought had culminated in the development of “theories of the State without a State-idea.” In the words of the German theorist Richard Schmidt, “Modern political theory emancipates itself from the speculative view; it leaves alone the metaphysical question about the idea of the State and restricts itself to the empirical world.”8 The principal culprits are historicism and positivism, movements responsible for a general debilitation of social thought and among the most 158 h e r m a n d o o y e w e e r d significant examples within social thought of the central dilemma generated by the adoption of the “immanence-standpoint.” This dilemma is the unavoidable tendency of thinkers oriented to this standpoint to seek to explain the whole of reality solely in terms of either specific modal aspects or specific typical structures. Such unbalanced concentrations on the explanatory capacity of a particular modal aspect or typical structure amount to the “absolutization” of this aspect or structure. Dooyeweerd has...


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