Thursday, October 13, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann's Man: Summary: Chapter 3a

Chapter 3: Images of man and experiments

[Note: This chapter could be an examination and critique of high-profile concrete utopias for the anthropological models they represent.]

Having examined environmental factors that affect human anxieties and hopes, Moltmann now turns to ask about anthropological models that people employ to understand the self.  He notes, too, that models always contain a salvific program for wholeness and liberation.  Stretched over a Christian schema of creation, fall and restoration, modern anthropologies beget images of human identity, alienation and the restoration of true character.  Some, of course, dismiss such hope as childish fantasy and set themselves to making use only of the tools at hand.  Yet, these ignore the truth that human beings cobble their own futures, improving or condemning themselves.  To ignore this is to treat human persons like lab specimens and not like creatures who both interrogate themselves and live by the results of such interrogation.  Therefore, in studying anthropological models, care should be taken to realize that a kerygma always hides under the surface of so-called objectivity.

A. The Utopia of the total man


Karl Marx (1818-1883) was the first to ask of capitalist industrial society what sort of anthropology it made.  “What men are,” he reasoned, “coincides with what they produce and with how they produce.” (Marx) “There is no nature of man which precedes the existence of man; on the contrary man is what he makes of himself.  He is the producer and product of his work.”(48)  What does capitalism, then, mean when it makes of human beings consumers?  What does it say of human beings when their work is the narrowest of contributions upon an industrial or technological assembly line?  What does it mean for the nature of humanity when its labor is sold for the purposes of others?  “Man has lost his true nature and become alien to himself.”(49)  Thus, human beings must win back their identities.

Moltmann diagrams the threefold matrix of relationships from which Marx assembles his thoroughly secular doctrine of alienation.

(1) The product of work is an alien object which belongs to someone else.  This is a consequence of capitalism.

(2) The work itself is not determined by the worker but by those who own the means of production.  This is a consequence of industrial methods of production and is, essentially, the incarnation of a new class structure which calls one’s job title who one is.


(3) The new class structure created by (1) and (2) narrow the range of possibility capable of human beings to one thing: having.  “Private property has made us so stupid and partial that an object is only ours when we have it.” (Marx)

Having listed these, Moltmann attacks them with the same critique brought against all those who would deny any hope to anthropology.  He teases the kerygma of harmony and peace, the concept of totality, from underneath Marx’s industrial protestations.  Marx, he says, always ascribed to the romantic ideal of the total man.  If alienation is best revealed in the proletariat, then the liberation of the proletariat would begin a realization of the ideal of humanity.  Private ownership of the means of production allows the hitherto alienated to enjoy the production of their labor.  Specialization is removed through cross-training, so that each person has multiple abilities, “each can become accomplished in any branch [of activity] he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow.” (Marx)  With the overthrow of capitalist industrial models, the society of having will be replaced by a “free association of individuals”, “the [concrete] Utopia of a society of authentic human existence.” (53)

Though not endorsing Marxism, Moltmann goes on to say that some course of action must be taken to reduce misery and raise the humanity of society.  “It is therefore entirely to the point to examine the Utopia of the total man critically, without thereby claiming to be examining the whole of Marxism.” (54)  What he finds is that Marx’s program for the elimination of alienation is doomed to failure because it never addresses anything but bourgeois alienation.  It never addresses the existential alienation forever present in humanity itself.  Human programs, he concludes, can never achieve the messianic vision of the total man.  Human history cannot free itself from its own historicity.  The failure of attempts to do so is obvious when it is realized that human beings are never identical with themselves.  If they could be brought into such an identical relationship with themselves and with nature, he would be infinite (re: Moltmann’s criticism of “direct encounter” in the introduction to Chapter 1). This is not to condone alienation, but to say that Marx’s programmatic method cannot provide a satisfactory solution.  Marx’s atheism, together with Feuerbach, holds that human beings are their own highest being; there is no need for humble subordination before a divine power.  Except this usurpation, says Moltmann, merely places a human rump in the seat of power, it does not abolish power altogether.  “That which previously had an authoritarian effect by the authority of the absolute will now become totalitarian in the claim to totality of the total society and of its total man.” (56)  The Party is God.  The Party is now the context of all meaning.  Everyone involved knows this to be a lie, “Man is … not a being in a species, like the animal.” (57)  History, rather, open and uncompleted with its possibilities for humanization and freedom, is the species to which human beings belong.

“The hope for the future which the Christian faith holds is not the ‘solution of the riddle of history’ in a unity of being of man, nature, and God, but a new creation of man in his world, in which the contradictions of the present are raised to a new and lasting response to God. . . . Christian hope is directed not toward the ‘total man’, but towards the ‘new man’.”(57)

Furthermore, “It is not as the authority of authorities that God’s reality is experienced, but as the power of the release of the bound and the power of the future for the hopeless.” (57)  Faith in the crucified Lord brings this-worldly solidarity with the alienated, but it never forgets the future of God, and so is always able to hope, and even in darkness.  The missionary call of God’s future enervates those tempted to a religious contentment with the present, yet the grace of God’s identification does not thus deny concrete circumstances.  Christianity challenges Marxism with the narrow limits of its anthropological definition.  Where is the humanity?  Marx’s challenge to Christians, says Moltmann, is whether they do, in fact, forget the social and political consequences of their confession.  Do you, too, forget your fellows?  Christianity and Marxism, he suggests, each profit from the question of the other.

“The criticism of the ‘Utopia of the total man’ which we have set out here is not intended to assist in a rejection of Marxism, but to forward its release to be itself, and to achieve the humanity which is contained in its humanistic traditions, but is also concealed by these." (59)

B. The Revolution from the Right


The world of the bourgeoisie was an idyllic dream.  Its apex position in the universe, gained through increasing industrialization, is now threatened by conflicts resulting from that same industrial process.  The economic power of the middle classes has grown inversely with their political power.  Thus, they are insecure and, even while hating themselves for doing it, purchase security at the cost of their own social position.  The bourgeois embraces its own protest.

“While the bourgeois world was originally committed to a universal society of the citizens of the world … the reaction against the international involvement and responsibilities of the modern world leads men to creep back into the nest which is called in Germany ‘holy fatherland’ or in America ‘God and my country.” (65)

The sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies gave such desire a voice in his book, Community and Society (1887).

In Community and Society, Tönnies outlines two basic possibilities human social life: community and society.  The former is a living thing, a lasting thing, bound together by natural processes: marriage, family, nation.  The latter, society, is a mechanical aggregate bound ideologically but not naturally together.  Societies unite for a purpose, for some practical advantage in which investment yields return.  They are limited constructions, and require from their members only what is needed.  Tönnies’ prejudice against the latter is no secret.  His dialectic can be forced onto society from any vantage point, and always the original community of genuineness begets a society of organization; culture over and against civilization.  What is needed, then, is a restoration of community the rootless, uncreative alienation of society.  Ironically, “A ‘restored’ community is a man-made community, and lacks all that which is praised as constituting its natural growth” (62)

Moltmann then traces the “community” idea of “people, nation and fatherland” in the political transitions of Germany, from the First World War, through the period of the Weimar democracy and into Hitler’s Reich.  In all of these, he identifies a “folk community” of the radical right, including the Evangelical church, which understood itself to be the protector of true community.  “’The People” in opposition to all industrialization:  Community vs. Society.  History is on the side of the right, this Revolution from the Right, “unfulfilled history is stores up in the village against the big city.” (64)  The state is the battleground, and, once in power, the Right will use the state to bring freedom.  The middle-class declaration that faith is a private matter now declares a new and altogether patriotic religion, a “hallowing of the national character by God” becoming a “substitution for God of the idol of the nation, to which the pious due of patriotism was owed." (66). Minorities and outcasts need not convert.

“What,” asks Moltmann, “does the Crucified Jesus to do with the gods of the fatherland?” (67)  He makes it plain that Christianity names no national religion, nor can it without denying its own nature.  Thus:

“Christians who find the identity of their Christian faith in the crucified Jesus are bound to be aware that they form strangers in their own nation and in their own people.  This is the price of their freedom.  Having this freedom they will not despise their own country, but support the institutions and movements which lead to greater democratic and social freedom. . . . The religion of anxiety can only be effectively overcome by the religion of freedom.” (67)


C. The law of the ideal man


Moltmann, having examined the concrete utopias arising from class and tradition, turns to examine another ideology existing within the legal system of nations: the lawful Citizen (Moltmann uses just ‘man’, but ‘Citizen’ is preferred for the purpose of this summary).  The Citizen, as a projection of the communal humanity of a people, is the yard stick of fairness and justice.  It is flexible in definition, its justice changing only so quickly as migrating demographics will allow.  No one person enjoys a private ideal.  The Citizen is an amalgam of all.  “Even the modern ‘pluralistic’ society exists only on the basis of a conformity attained through agreement on what is in common.” (68)  Yet, asks Moltmann, when each nation’s ideal Citizen is considered alone, does it withstand the test of humanity?  Is each paragon of legal justice just?  Is a truly valid legal ordinance even possible?

“Is there a higher court of appeal, before which the law in force must be justified, or can anything count as law which has been established by agreement?  Can men come to agree on just any image of man they like, or is there (at least in theory) a humanity on which these images of man must be patterned in different societies?  And if anything like this higher court of appeal exists, who is responsible for this court of higher responsibility, and who is authorized to put what it says into words?” (69)

Moltmann then lists a few legal examples taken from German reforms in the early 1970s.  These include statements on marital monogamy, legal protections for human life vs. any individual’s decision to die and the proscription of general lawfulness.  His purpose in listing these reforms is to demonstrate that underneath such legal categories exists a central standard of moral self-determination, a standard which rests in pure anthropology and not legal definition.  “Moral self-determination is asserted to be an elementary part of the constitution of man.” (70)  Aha!  An a priori kernel of free and responsible decision making constituting an idealized (legalized) image of man.

Yet, what of the social human being?  Can we really isolate out the “I”, cut away all interconnections, and hang justice upon the remainder?  Such abstraction, Moltmann maintains, is the assumption behind verdicts which emphasize punishment-for-retribution rather than, he says, punishment-for-resocialization.  (How far, I wonder, does this criticism parallel Moltmann’s construction of a purely social model of the Trinity in protest against the authoritarian (monotheistic) Trinity of the ‘Wholly Other’ postulated by Karl Barth?)

And what about objective moral law?  Didn’t the Third Reich exploit the changing ideology of the Citizen in order to subject justice itself to the sovereign control of their Führer?  “Is there … a ‘nature of man’ which can be used as a criterion of the rights of citizens in all societies? … Who decides what belongs to it and what does not?” (72)  Moltmann begins tracing the historical basis of natural law.

His search ends with the Stoic understanding of the one-to-one relationship between the laws of the State and the logos of God.  The divine order of being is the measure of the moral order.  “Not everything is right therefore which is decided upon by the agreement of the citizens, but only that which corresponds to the nature of man, and to the divine order of being.” (73) 

Moltmann’s judgment is that both the legislative ideas of human nature and of a divinely sanctioned moral law are pleasant ideals with no real connection to the historic existence of human beings.  Natural law, or other labels for sole and authoritative legal principles, can be interpreted to any end for the advantage of the powerful.  Human beings are constantly messing with what is biological about themselves; human biology is not a mirror for essence.  Furthermore, natural law itself can be shown by research to have changed over time.  Unfortunately, the cry for proper governance cannot be shirked.  Some agreed-upon definition of the lawful Citizen is required for legal systems to exist.

Moltmann attempts to find a solution through invocation of a future hope for humanity.  “The contents [of the agreed definition of moral law and human nature] may be historically conditioned and changeable, but the intention which is contained in it is unconditioned and invariable.” (74)  The future is a powerful idea in the moral purposes of any civilization.  Human beings do aim at ‘future rights’ as they anticipate the development of their common life.  It is the “unavoidable task of altering the world, of healing it, of bettering it, of making it more worthy of man and more worth living in, that can be regarded as the norm of justice.” (75)  Approaching questions of justice from this perspective, he says, removes ideological fantasy and replaces it with a “concrete Utopia of the rights of man and to a legal system which is intended for citizens of the world.” (75)

Christian churches are partly to blame for clinging to the ideology of the lawful Citizen.  They have baptized legal systems with categories of divine law and the God of law.  Such a God, however, is a punishing, authoritarian judge handing down punishment upon sinners and the guilty of the world.  That is why, he says, the religious typically support the death penalty.  It is not a leap made necessary by the Bible.

The God of the Bible, says Moltmann, is a God of freedom.  “Righteousness in respect of the covenant is founded on the free self-determination of God and on his promise of fidelity, in which he gives sureties for the future of his people.” (76)  (If developments from Moltmann’s Crucified God can be brought to bear, his meaning becomes a little clearer.  God himself suffered his own punishment in the surrender to death of the Son and in the giving over of the Son to death by the Father.  There is simply no judgment left, but only the life-giving benefits of the resurrection through the Spirit of the Crucified.  This is why Moltmann can say, “It [God’s righteous law] demands nothing therefore that it has not itself previously given.” (76) which can only be an allusion to Augustine’s glorious aphorism: “Command what you will, Lord, and then give what you command.”)

Christians should then cease equating national law with divine retribution, and should, instead, attempt to encode love into the fabric of their national legal character.  Love, he writes, is found in seeking the rights of one’s neighbor. “Love, as a category of law, does not give any man up, but has regard for his possibilities, including the as yet unrealized possibilities God has for him.” (77)  what is needed, he continues, is an understanding of legal punishment which, rather than further institutionalizing a lex talionis, seeks to meet evil with good and thus usher in a better world.

“The ‘law of the ideal man’ can easily change into inhuman demands.  It seems to make more sense to give practical expression to hope for really human men by means of love for other men, and especially by love for guilty man.” (78)

(This reviewer has to wonder if there is not the hint of a post-millennial eschatology of the Kingdom of God in Moltmann’s enthusiasm for love as a national category of law.  For, after all, Moltmann himself has said that one’s eschatology is one’s politics and vice versa.)