Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann's Man: Summary: Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Humanism in an industrial society

(Read Chapter One)

A. ‘He who rides on the tiger can no longer get off it’

In the last chapter, Moltmann asked where the question of “Who am I?” arose in the context of the exterior world. Now, however, that world has changed. “We now come,” he writes, “to the specific social and political problems of humanity in present-day industrial society” (22).  In this context, it is no longer the naturally given circumstances of human life which have been true in every age, but the surrounding self-made environment, new to this age, in which the question is asked. In this new world it is not as if nature’s domination has been thrown off and freedom attained by industrialization. Rather, “technologies and bureaucracies arise which have a similar anonymously concealed power to make mankind dependent and powerless”(23).  It is not as if people who before did not belong to any environment now do. Rather, even though the environment is a human construct, it is no more human than before. Human beings are aliens in a world of their own making. From this situation two problems arise:

(a) a pan-human technological consciousness unique to history;
(b) a growing suspicion about the absolute goodness of the unrestrained growth of technological power.

In the first case, the material of technology has become so fused with human awareness that it is hard to know where one ends or begins. Still, the resulting cyborg race is not wholly unfamiliar. “Man is conscious of being a part of a larger unity. But this interplay between the ‘I’ and the larger context has not yet produced a human form”(24).  We are aware of all people as a whole, the world is our community, yet the immensity of human need overwhelms individual compassion. “Everyone is aware of more misery than he can alter, for the chances of active intervention are limited”(Ibid).  Psychoses of guilt and powerlessness are the result.

Then, of course, there is the Enlightenment holdover of belief in the essential goodness of expanding technological achievement and power. What, however, is the point? Now that we can satisfy every need and desire, what is the basis for this continued sophistication which looks more and more like fanatical fatalism every day? Has the myth of progress eclipsed the concrete needs of human life? Do we even have the legislative sophistication or the collective ability to stop the works and consider our options? “The God of the machine, who promised everything to everyone, seems now like an evil spirit, who draws everything toward destruction”(26).

What then, given the changes of human definition and the inertia of industry, can be done to humanize the whole and remove the danger of self-destruction that is everywhere a possibility?

B. The ‘spectre of industrial society’ and the longing for the ‘whole life’

In light of the above situation, humanity divides into two ghostly armies: the spectre of the industrial employee and the spectre of the luddite exorcist. In one exists the religion of emancipation, in the other the religious desire for security. The former Moltmann calls “capitalist society”, “bourgeois society” or “technocracy.”[1] The latter he names, “nationalism,” “fascism,” “anarchism” or “left-wing radicalism.” Such multiplication of labels illustrates an inability to see the whole context. “The unlimited possibilities of technical society have from the beginning evoked in the human consciousness optimistic enthusiasm as well as images of apocalyptic terror.” Moltmann intends to discuss them in that order: industrial hope and desperate anxiety; and to end with “individual elements in the longing for the whole life” (28).

C. The everlasting kingdom of peace

Industrialization has seized upon the ancient expectation of a Messianic kingdom of peace and made it its own. The economic state, coming on the heels of states religious and political, is a final stage of political and social peace and communal blessing. Permanent technological expansion releases humanity from the bonds of tradition and the need for transcendence. The secular city is the fulfillment of Christian hope.

“The secular city, in which the knowledge of skills of mankind are concentrated today, and in which the new urban life is lived, is a foreshadowing of the City of God in heaven. As the heavenly City of God, according to the old prophecy, has no temple, so the modern megalopolis is already religionless and is inhabited by men come of age.”(30)

D. The shelter in the end of the world

Industrialization means thus: nature becomes a raw material; “Men live without experiencing life, and so feelings of coldness and poverty of experience become mass phenomena.”(31) “Instead of putting the stamp of humanity upon his own nature, he becomes nothing more than the imprint of his occupation or of his specialized knowledge” (32).  Needless to say, not everyone greets secularism with open arms. And, in the face of it, kill or be killed, the creative maelstrom of chaos becomes a legitimate option of protest. “If this world is torn down, the new birth will be forced on” (34).[2]

Interestingly enough, the destructive, apocalyptic protest against industrialization comes not from the lower classes but from the middle-class bourgeoisie. Moltmann asks why this is so, and finds the answer not in economics but in morals. The pantheism of the secular city which identifies God and the world removes, he says, surprise and freedom. The “rationalized cosmos of connections, relationships and dependencies” which is the secular city has no room for human variety. No one may truly have themselves; each individual is too necessary within the infinite dependencies which make up the modern industrial machine.[3] Homogeneous humanity is needed for continued industrial process.

“Because men have clearly demanded too much of this modern industrial world, and expected from it a heaven of self-realization, the disappointment hinted at, which has already often been experienced, changes into an experience of this world as a hell of self-alienation.”(36)

Moltmann concludes his diagnosis by recommending that work be denied its divinity and that human beings decry further idolatry. The present situation must be bluntly accepted. This world is what it is, a tug-of-war between humanity and inhumanity. What is needed, he says, is “a transcendental support for hope … as a basis for a ‘hope against hope’, and a hope against the disappointments of life on earth” (36).  This support, or basis for hope, “is the critical ‘yes’ response of love, which goes beyond the absolute ‘yes’ of shallow enthusiasm.” It is the basis for real cultural criticism and change, because it arises from suffering, from the disconnect between what is and what could be, from the awareness of a larger possibility beyond the borderlands of actual human relationships.[4] This sort of disconnect occurs historically in three types, from which Moltmann claims human rights are born within industrial society. These are: social romanticism, ‘inward emigration’, and Utopian consciousness. What follows is a treatment of each.

E. Social romanticism

Social romanticism is the memory of the good ole’ days. Times change so fast that people can no longer understand them. New situations are resisted without resistance. “[Social romanticism] just sanctions them by its powerless dreams of yesterday” (37).  Underneath its posture, however, is a romantic belief in the secret of origin and the existence of an organic world of historical dimension. Moltmann correlates social and political Romanticism. Both appear in times of crisis, but provide only emotional answers for rational needs. God, he writes, does not sanction mythologies of family and fatherland, but offers, instead, the crucified Christ.

F. Inward emigration

“By inward emigration we understand a retreat of the educated intellect from circumstances which are deplored as being mindless” (39).[5] Outer society is abandoned for a secret region of inner peace. Politics and economics are unclean and subordinate to the holy pursuits of inner, true humanity. Moltmann brings two criticisms to bear upon this attitude. First, addressing the émigré love of high culture, Moltmann observes that such an attitude parasitically feeds upon the very world process and politic which it despises. Second, measuring the distance traced between the inward émigré and everyday life, he finds a vacuum of power. The criticisms of the hearth never effect the institutions of the street, thus denying society the very minds and ideas that could ultimately humanize it. “But should not authentic Christian belief prepare rather for the incarnation of the human in inhuman circumstances, even if this means denying oneself and taking up one’s cross?”(41)

G. The Utopian consciousness

Moltmann does not use “utopia” pejoratively. What he does is describe two types of utopianism: social utopias and concrete utopias, a method borrowed from neo-Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch. The difference between these utopias manifests in their relationship to the real. Social utopias do not relate to society past or present, but “to a future life of society which is not yet there” (42).  On the other hand, concrete utopias address objectively real possibilities. Consequently, the latter, “offer to the present the future it desires as a real possibility. They do not totally embody the present ‘system’, but rather uncover the future with which this present is already pregnant” (Ibid).  Humanity needs the real criticism made available by concrete utopias, even if larger world evils can be addressed only one problem at a time. What Moltmann likes most of all about concrete utopias, however, is the open definition of society within their suppositions.

“The freedom of man, if it is understood as creative freedom, has its area always in the realm of the possible, and in the future which the present opens up ahead. Where one of these elements, freedom, possibility or future, is given up, the others too fall away. Concrete Utopian thinking is therefore indispensable for the freedom and humanity of mankind.” (43)

A concrete utopia casts out beyond present limitations. It critiques the way things are, draws human hopes and drives human beings forward into the unknown and unreal. Concrete Utopias mediate between reality and otherworldliness.

Moltmann finds in the parallelism of otherworldly and concrete exemplified by the strategy of Concrete Utopianism a suitable place for beginning discussion of the kingdom of God. “The basis of Christian hope,” he writes, “lies in faith in the crucified Son of Man. It is in him that the wholly other kingdom of God has set foot on earth.” Consequently, it exhibits in the person of Jesus Christ the before-mentioned parallelism. It is both “hidden under the cross” (Luther), becoming visible only in times of crisis, temptation and struggle, and incarnates itself as love “in those possibilities which one has or finds.”(44) He then ends his chapter with a display of rhetorical dialectic upon the theme:

“This love grips this life as if it were everything, and yet at the same time knows that that which is not all there is. It denies itself as passionately as if with death everything were over, and yet it hopes in the resurrection of the dead. It finds God in the concrete, and yet it knows that everything concrete is transcended by God.”(45)


[1] “Technopolis [signifies] the fusion of technological and religious components into the base on which a new cultural style has appeared. . . . Technopolis represents a new species of human community.” Harvey Cox. The Secular City. (New York: MacMillan, 1965): 5-6.

[2] In the article, “Apocalyptic Terrorism and the New World Order”, Moltmann argues that Sept. 11, 2001 represented a collision of eschatological ideas. “This was the attack of the terrorist ending of the world on the [Western] global perfection of world history.” Moltmann lists three essential conditions for modernization developed in the West: (1) separation of religious community and civil society; (2) recognition of freedom of worship; (3) recognition of the human rights of women. He therefore believes that Islamic fundamentalism forms the most serious threat to the world today because it protests against all three conditions, unifying as it does church and state, religion and culture, and religion and economy.

[3] One of the bases of human insecurity in society today, says Moltmann, is a crisis of hope. The social roles of society leave youth no room for “finding oneself or one’s identity in them....Instead of finding himself, man becomes a representative for something else – a company, an administration, or a corporation.” Human Identity in Christian Faith Raymond Fred West Memorial Lectures on Immortality (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974): 3..

[4] God’s call, which creates suffering, is then a transcendental: “We too are unfinished women and men, poised to become what we are. Our restless self-questioning is not derived from some innate human property, an inherent cor inquietum or an immanental “openness to the world” within us, but instead arises from the charge and commission of God, the promissio inquieta, the eschatological “openness to the world ahead of us” which then beckons and disturbs the human consciousness.” G. Clarke Chapman, “On Being Human: Moltmann’s Anthropology of Hope” Asbury Theological Journal Vol. 55 No. 1 (Spring, 2000): 71.

[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society (Fortress, 1999): 41-42.