Saturday, October 15, 2016

MacIntyre Chapter Two: Moral Disagreement Today

Chapter Two: Moral Disagreement Today and the Claims of Emotivism


Summary in the First Part



“The hypothesis which I wish to advance,” begins Alasdair MacIntyre in his seminal work After Virtue, “is that in the actual world which we inhabit, the language of morality is in . . . a state of grave disorder” (2) Moral grammar still exists, he says, but in Disney-esque imitation. “The language and the appearances of morality persist even though the integral substance [has been] fragmented and . . . destroyed” (5). It is a profound claim, coming as it does after several hundred years of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment moral thinking. And yet “we are in a state so disastrous that there are no large remedies for it” (Ibid). If he is correct, then no one alive today has lived within a moral system that isn’t an imitation. If he is correct, then the guideposts of our personal and political lives could easily be misaligned or wrong--or evil. MacIntyre has made a big claim, and the believing of it is going to require big proof. But where to begin? MacIntyre chooses to trace the source from its effects.

Modern political discourse--dialogue in the give-and-take of our public square--is difficult for any democracy. It should be difficult. But what we discover in the last half-century are habitual problems that never resolve. They fester like sores on the state. Many call them incurable, but MacIntyre disagrees. And he dissects them carefully as a geneticist would a virus.

What he discovers is that these habitual and seemingly interminable debates have three characteristics. First, the arguments are reasonable and legitimate, but their products are of different kinds. Everybody’s logic works, but one talks rights while another talks universality; one talks equality, another, liberty. Second, arguments claim to be impersonal and reasonable and are presented that way. He outlines a relationship here between two kinds of moral appeals: one that depends on the personal context of the appeal and one that is impersonal and a-contextual, and so applies to everyone. The former would be, for example, a request “Do this.” And the context of the request is that I’m your parent or your boss. There is a context that gives force to the request. These habitual arguments sever any connection between the address and the context of the one addressed. Their criteria of acceptance is impersonal. Third, every qualifying debate has a pedigree. Arguments come out of traditions woven from a complex history of dialogue. You can’t simply jettison history for the sake of a solution.
“All those various concepts which inform our moral discourse were originally at home in larger totalities of theory and practice in which they enjoyed a role and function supplied by contexts of which they have now been deprived.” (10)

Now these three characteristics do not quite mix. The first characteristic is already problematic. The conclusions to competing-yet-valid arguments differ in kind, so how do we judge a victor? Our society has no way of doing so. We are left in a no-man’s-land of unreason. There is only the “clash of antagonistic wills” in a forever screaming match that shouts in public and in the uncertainty of our hearts. The second characteristic of these arguments, when combined with the first, further complicates. The second always appeals to the impersonal and the reasonable. But we’ve just seen that the first has no impersonal and reasonable way of sorting it all out. Therefore, the impersonal thing is just a show, a masquerade of reasonability. MacIntyre wonders why.


“What is it about rational argument which is so important that it is the nearly universal appearance assumed by those who engage in moral conflict? Does not this suggest that the practice of moral argument in our culture expresses at least an aspiration to be or to become rational in this area of our lives?” (9,10)  


Finally, with the third characteristic, we confront pluralism. Pluralism is praised. But what do we mean by pluralism? Is it “an ordered dialogue of intersecting viewpoints” or “an unharmonious melange of ill-assorted fragments”? He suspects the latter.


And so, having parsed out the elements of the debates that fester our public and private lives, MacIntyre asks how this data squares up with his initial hypothesis and finds that it squares up well. The language of morality has changed. We should be able to map this change and examine some earlier and different moral milieu. It is not going to be easy. The academic curriculum has long divided philosophy from history and treated philosophers like a-historic specimens on a petri dish. We should beware lest we make the same mistake going forward. But can there be a forward?


“You can go no further,” comes a voice. “It is impossible. For moral arguments--all moral arguments--are and always must be irresolvable.” (Here, as best as I can understand, MacIntyre has summoned a foil, much as a speaker will address “some might say” arguments in a speech after an important point has been made.) For now and for all times, for here and for everywhere, moral disagreements have no resolution. There is no going forward. And the voice is right, there is no going forward--not until this objection is defeated. And MacIntyre knows the name of its champion: emotivism.

MacIntrye, After Virtue: Preface and Chapter One

MacIntye, After Virtue: Outline of Chapter Two

Friday, October 14, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann's Man: Summary: Chapter 3b

Chapter 3: Images of man and experiments


D. The life of dialogue


In a world saturated with technology’s whirring activity, human beings and their problems and situations – love, suffering, death – leave technicians speechless.  Human beings, after all, are so awash with mass-sensations that they no longer experience life.  Thus they nurse a deep anxiety.

Historically, the Enlightenment labored to produce an ‘I’ fit to lord over the world of things.  For Descartes and others, freedom’s expression was a resounding ‘I.’  But the ‘I’ cannot exist on its own without loneliness. Feuerbach, addressing this very problem, wrote, “The nature of man is contained only in community in the unity of man – a unity which however rests upon the reality of the distinction of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’.” (80)  It was a move mirrored in new evaluations of language where life does not make language, but is rather made by it.  The ‘I-Thou’ of language is the basis of self-consciousness and community with others.  Thus, subjectivity is intersubjectivity.

Martin Buber’s work I and Thou brought further clarified the linguistic element of human relations.  Buber created a continuum of possible human relationships, with the I-Thou on one side and the I-It on the other.  The ‘I’ of the latter is a subject who perceives and acts.  The ‘I’ of the latter pair is an ‘I’ who hears and dialogues.  It is a useful continuum when considering humanity within the roaring power of technological life.

The I-it, which asks of human beings, “What?” is absolutely disjunctive to the I-Thou, which asks of human beings, “Who?”  Technological life, which treats human beings as consumers, or numbers, producers, or liabilities, cannot comprehend the human life which mediates the whole being in an encounter with actual living.  Furthermore, within the Thou one may come to themselves and, now whole speak wholly. The I, on the other hand, offers relentless experiential dissection.

Buber developed an entire philosophy of religion from his linguistic personalism.  “In the ultimate grounds of our linguistic and spiritual life, God is the true ‘Thou’ to the true and enduring ‘I’ of man. . . . And if anyone avoids the names for the unnameable, because they are all misused, and addresses with his whole being the ‘Thou’ of his life, it is God that he addresses.” (83)  As well, the Thou, he said, was accessible only in the Thou of one’s neighbor.  Community, then, is the new-and-forever after locus of divine visitation.

Moltmann, though enthusiastic about Buber’s insights, asks if perhaps the ‘It’ has not been misunderstood.  He asks about the community of work, the everyday community, the life with others that is more concrete than the small, oath-bound communities of Buber’s vision.  Community, he say, requires “a common material agency and reliable institutions” the “necessary and good incarnations of the human into real life.” (84)  Modern society, he says, cannot be humanized through personalization.

“It is not possible directly to repersonalize relationships which have been divided up for a rational purpose. . . . The ‘life of dialogue’ can easily lead to a romantic flight from the reality of scientific and technological civilization.  Then it loses its humanizing and healing powers and survives in a petty corner for the criticism of culture.” (85)


Furthermore, he says, industrialization, instead of depersonalizing life, has allowed it the freedom to dialogue.  Thus, in condemning the technopolis of the I-It, Buber’s personalistic protest cuts away at the floor beneath it.  What is good about the community of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ is that it reminds human beings of their own humanity with one another.  That, he says, should inform social and political work in the modern world.  “Men will then take to themselves the sorrow of a reality which is constantly alienated and materializing, and see the future under the image of its alteration so that it can be characterized as a human society.” (86)


E. The irony of the "man without qualities"


Rootlessness characterizes the order of the day in an industrial society.  For many, there is no ultimate realization of a universal human society.  Yet, irony has become a way forward for some; the irony of the ‘man without qualities.’

Ralf Dahrendorf, in his essay "Homo Sociologicus," described a model of human expression, a sociological model.  In this model, human beings both describe themselves and are described by a matrix of social roles: parent, child, teacher, citizen, bird watcher, female.  Indeed, there is no other way of describing who someone is, whether someone else or yourself, outside of these relationships.  These do not have to do with who someone is, however, but only what they do.  They are societal descriptions in which someone lives, descriptions that are horizons of the possible, each one molding the subject to the shape of a different expectation; a German professor and a farm laborer live on disparate tracks. Social roles are the process of socialization, molding the man and introducing him to the society of his peers.

Social roles bring dangers with them.  Their role play separates the human person into personalities, inner and outer in a division which begs the question: “Is [one] identical with the echo which his personal life has made among other people?” (88)  There is the danger too of so becoming one’s role that there is no humanity left save what is proscribed.[1] Again, as relationships multiply one upon the other, the self becomes a juggling act which, in critical cases, could result in a split of the personality itself.  Each role, each expectation, brings with it different claims.  In a whirl of competing demands, can one even speak of an ‘I’ at peace with itself and the world?  Moltmann asks, “Where is he a man, and where is he free to be man?  Or does he just not appear as himself and as ‘man’ in the functional activity of this pluralistic society? (90)  So is there a subject at all?

There is hope for a subject if passive imagination is considered.  To the clingy aggregate of social roles there is always one untouched addition.  This one addition, this passive imagination, allows a detachment, an even laughable point of view by which to critique all the other demanding selves.  This one addition is the free possibility of being different.  “By means of self-irony man can look out from the reality of his life and reflect, keep his negative independence from everything and toy with the quite different possibilities that he has.” (93)  So free and open can this ironic man without qualities be that Moltmann draws a line between it and Marx’s total man.  Both, he says, look beyond constricting societal walls to bare hills of human possibility.

Yet, Moltmann also warns this passive ironic of romantic dangers.  She struggles to acquire greater possibilities, but knows she can never belong to any of the roles which she acquires.  She develops an experimental attitude toward life and “lives the delusion that the thousand possibilities … are worth more than the one reality.” (93)  The external world, the real world, slides away within the foggy disconnect.  “This fascination is paid for … by  an increasing inability to identify oneself and to become flesh in practical life, and to love.” (94)  With no real place to stand, the passive ironic ironically is swept along by the active forces, plans and expectations against which irony was chosen in the first place.

Moltmann sets another contextual warning.  This time against a form of Christian identity.  He describes this identity as such:

If radical contextualization is what it is to be human, then how can one live from and in God?  If a man is but the result of his social relationships, then how can we understand him when,

“the transcendent God calls him and he receives the call of the word of God and trusts it, he releases himself at the same time from the enclosedness of the world and becomes free of the powers and laws of the world.  He becomes free of the mirror of his social activities and can stand over against himself.  He is then no longer the result of his social circumstances, but becomes Son of God and Lord of the World (Gogarten).” (95)

The creature of God lives in a different world than Dahrendorf’s homo sociologicus.  Roles do not define, but become tools which may be owned without owning.  They are no longer laws from jealous gods but simply roles; they are secularized.  The real does not dominate.  At the same time, the inner self is made sacred because it receives itself from God.  There is a place to stand outside the roles, a place for possibility.  Freedom is granted to the inner self so that there is no longer the cacophonous demands of society but, instead, the silent place of one’s decision.  Chiding Bultmann’s free decision of faith, Moltmann retorts, “The freedom of faith is indeed always specific in decisions, but decisions do not turn into decisiveness.” (96)  The problem with this point of decision which stands between the cut made between God and the world (for in the solitary, sacred place before God one takes refuge from the social demands of the secular) is that nothing gets done by it.  There is no inner ability in its position to make decisive choices.  There is no human incarnation for the sake of others.  Social reality is not changed.  It is a “Utopia of the negative.”  “This form of belief is always in danger of changing into the romantic attitude of the beautiful soul, which like a butterfly moving from flower to flower dashes past reality from one decision to another, without really and effectively taking corporate reality seriously.” (96) The passive ironic, untouched because she is without qualities even as she lives in a world of qualities, is aesthetically attractive.  But, as Moltmann concludes the segment, it arises from the experience of social powerlessness.

F. The adventurous heart


One option in the face of life’s increasing complexity is raw and direct action.  Instead of the patient labor of maintaining community networks upon networks; instead of political decisions made more and more obscure as awareness of the layered contexts are understood; instead of these, Alexander’s sword of naked decision is drawn from its sheath (Scheide) and with it the clarity of action (Entscheidung).

“Critically Utopian thought builds upon the relationships of the present which have become opaque the objective counter-image of a liberated-harmonious society. . . . Self critical scepticism withdraws from an oppressive social reality into the inner secret of the man without qualities, to satisfy those possibilities in unreality.  There is yet a third way, from multiplicity to simplicity, the mover from the thousand possibilities to the one necessary reality, which is the naked decision.” (97)

It is not the purpose of acting but that one has acted that clarifies.  In the teeth of battle, decisions are elementary, friend and foe are clearly manifest.  Moltmann identifies “the struggle for the existence of the nation” – war –with this very desire.  On the level of nation state, political and social factions, melt away and unify under the banner of patriotism.  Such decisiveness, says Moltmann, explains why facism held such attraction, despite having no plan of its own other than to act.

The will to power grants unity to the individual as well.  In the commitment to arms, all the manifold demands, roles and divisions of the self stitch together.  Existence is one, a fulcrum between the scales of living and dying.  “Deliverance from the uncertainty in which one does not know what one is there fore, lies in total self-sacrifice.” (100)

The best preparation for a life of self-sacrifice is the destruction of humanistic education.  Contempt today for the ‘ivory tower’ universities, the desire of some to hitch the intellect to a certain powerful politic, or even the wholesale embrace of anarchy: all of these, he says, is a treason of intellect against intellect.

Politically, such a life is paved by abolishing parliamentary procedure and bureaucratic process.  The Utopia of the bourgeoisie “consists  in the hope that one could transmute the decisive battle into a continuous parliamentary debate, and put it off by delay.  The opposite to discussion is dictatorship…” (101)  In times of war, there is no need for congressional debates, but only kill or be-killed.  The dictatorship offers seductively a simple, naked decision.  Therefore, dictatorships thrive in existential politics.

Just as the longing for decision is met by secular categories of friend and enemy, that same longing is met by ideas of apocalypse in religious sects and churches.  In the looming shadow of the end, faith is the absolute decision made on the basis of an absolute call; both, notes Moltmann, beyond verification by any objective standard.  “One can only take an attitude to them without reference to reasons and proofs.” (103)  Faith is the ultimate risk, a leap without evidence.  “It is not the credibility of its object that is evidence for [faith], but one’s own decisive commitment, in which man comes to himself.” (103)  Yet, he asks, without a credible object, does one really have the Christian faith?

Brushing away complexity, responsibility and the political and social demands of responsible human living by means of violence and the act only brushes them away.  It does not balance the need for society.  Furthermore, the very thing that makes decisiveness so decisive is its context against the daily background of complexity.  Without needs, demands, and deadlines, there is no way of talking about decision.  The two are related in a negative circularity.

The same circularity appears in religious faith.  The existential leap, too, is only an antithesis against the thesis of the church of historic confession and liturgical and missiological praxis.  The existential leap has no real substance of its own; inexpressibility is no foundation.  “Christian faith is indissolubly linked with historical recollection of the Christ-event and with eschatological hope in the future of Christ, and so is itself a historical decision.” (104)  The call of the gospel does not bow him to crisis in a last day, but, rather, “opens to him new possibilities of altering himself and his circumstances.  It puts him in the time of love, which trusts in the possibility of conversion of the ‘enemy’, because it hopes in him, and therefore does not kill or damn him, but tries to help him to life.” (104)  Neither Modern society nor the Christian faith will find a solution in the naked friend-foe decision.  Rather, both should adhere to the better way, loving and rational dialogue with others.



[1] Heidegger’s Das-Man




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.)