Hegel the Theologian

Enrique Dussel (Underside of Modernity) explains Hegel’s defection from Kant in theological terms. Inspired by Schiller’s distinction of reason as “the vital faculty of synthesis” and understanding as the faculty that “determines its object, separates it, kills it,” Hegel described the kingdom of Jesus in terms of reason rather than understanding: “In the Kingdom of the Heavens he [Jesus] shows to them [his disciples] not the elimination of the law, but instead that these will be fullfilled through a justice, one which will be different and greater than the justice as is ob­tained from the mere fidelity of duty” (quoted p. 140).

Dussel explains that “For the young Hegel, still a theologian, Kant is the Old Testament of the formal law (morality, Moralitat); Jesus is the New Testament, the subsumption (Aufhebung) of the unilateral in the pleroma (the future ethical life, Sittlichkeit).” Hegel’s basic concepts of Aufhebung and Sittlichkeit are not only formulated over-against Kant, but formulated in theological terms.

Hegel writes, “The most comprehensive principle may be called a tendency to execute what the law commands, unity of inclination [Neigung] and law, thanks to which this loses its form as law; this agreement with the inclination is the pleroma of the law. . . . The same is true with this tendency, a virtue [Tugend], is a synthesis in which the law loses its universality (in virtue of which Kant always named it objective), the subject its particularity, and both their con­tradiction [Entgegensetzung]” (quoted 140).

This sublation of duty into the pleroma is a sublation of universal into particular, and of objective, eternal law into a synthesis of subject and object that occurs in a community. Instead of coming from outside, ethical demand appears as “second nature. Sittlichkeit,” and the ethical life, “operates through love, through inclination, through ethos.” As Hegel himself put it, “Agreement [Obereinstimmung] is life, and as such relation of the different: love.” Thus, for Hegel, “the Kingdom of God . . . is a living community,” rather than the individual who is confronted by objective law, which (Hegel channeling Paul) kills (quote 141).

The assumptions and conclusions aren’t from Paul, but much of the form of the argument is typological and Pauline.

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