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Analogies are not transformations

What lies behind the proposition that the significant concepts of the modern doctrine of the state are secularized theological concepts is not so much a historical insight, as Carl Schmitt asserts when he explains that these concepts were “transferred from theology to political theory,” as it is a dualistic typology of situations. Consider, for example, the proposition that “the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver.” If this assertion were correct, then the other could not also hold, according to which after the failure of the Enlightenment the conservative counterrevolutionary writers attempted “to support the personal sovereignty of the monarch ideologically by means of analogies drawn from a theistic theology.” Analogies, after all, are precisely not transformations. If every metaphorical borrowing from the dynastic language treasures of theology were ‘secularization’ in the sense of transformation, then we would immediately stand before a mass of products of secularization that would have to be entitled “Romanticism.”

Hans Blumenberg

The two rejoinders against Schmitt here are (1) he is employing a false dualism, and (2) he takes appropriation of theological concepts by analogy as proof of the illegitimacy and derivativeness of a non-theological political system. I have yet to see a convincing rebuttal of either of these claims, and it still seems rather ironic that a good chunk of leftist thought is being spent on one of the most dichotomy-friendly political thinkers of last century. Schmitt is unworthy of Blumenberg’s criticism (which seems to be Blumenberg’s attitude as well; there is the sense of exasperation at the sheer lack of support for Schmitt’s attacks).


  1. harvey clafin

    19 July 2009 at 21:36

    There are two rebuttals to Blumenberg that might offer convincing arguments. First his Robert Pippin’s essay on Blumenberg in his Idealism as Modernism and second is an essay by Richard Kennington called “Blumenberg and the Legitimacy of the Modern Age.” Kennington’s essay does not deal with Schmitt but rather with Lowith. Kennington says that if we suppose that the secularization thesis is incorrect, Blumenberg still needs to explain how the belief in political progress arose in Western Europe without reference to Christian eschatology. Kennington then explains how the philosophic founders of modernity, Bacon and Descartes, explicity used theological concepts to further the political aims of the new scientific method they were proposing. Obviously this undercuts Blumenberg’s legitimacy thesis. Also, Schmitt responded to Blumenberg in Political Theology II. The dichotomies of Schimtt’s thought are not as stark as they first appear. But it is indeed humorous that the contemporary left is fascinated with two of the most conservative thinkers of the twentieth century, namely Schmitt and Heidegger.

  2. the Pippin essay doesn’t do justice to Blumenberg because Pippin comes too much from Hegel [still he(Pippin) raises valid (and rather general) questions about the paradox of a philosophical critique of philosophy and the other paradox of (or maybe this is rather the problem of why people never getting over the logos) how modernity can be legitimized without recurring to the overcoming of the myth by the logos. but this is answered by Blumenberg in “Work on Myth” so Pippin’s critique is essentially running into open doors]. Better is the critical work by Ralf Konersmann. Or Elizabeth Brient “The Immanence of the Infinite. Hans Blumenberg and the Threshold of Modernity”

    Loewith/Blumenberg is a whole new can of different worms. Loewith (Die Philosophie und die Frage nach dem Fortschritt, 1962) operates with an idea of history that is a mixture of belief and seeing and is neither christianic or gentile, but rather a bleak mixture of both and ends up with a somewhat Nietzschean/Ancient Greek circular idea of history and so escapes this rather traditional Descartes/Bacon approach. Because by a cyclical anti-teleological approach Loewith hoped/thought allows the power of healing of the modernity and allows also to overcome this fatal teleological thinking in politics.
    Not sure whether Kennington has understood this. it doesn’t look like it. and it is not a good thing to extrapolate from Loewith to Blumenberg.

    there is a recent careful edition of letters Schmitt & Blumenberg, it wasn’t so one-sided and Schmitt & Blumenberg both engaged in respectful dialogue.


  3. harvey clafin

    21 July 2009 at 08:53

    Kennington understands it only too well, as is clear in his On Modern Origins, especially in his exegesis of Bacon’s use of history and the rhetoric of humanitarianism, establishing a direct link between Christianity and secularization. Kennington does not present a theory of history, and in the essay on Blumenberg is concerned only to show that Blumenberg’s claims about the origins of modernity don’t match up with the way in which the founders of modernity itself understood their project, meaning that the legitimacy Blumenberg claimed to be a result of modernity’s free-standing self-assertion is anachronistic at best. Regarding Pippin, I am not sure what too much of a Hegelian perspective means, since it is not here described, to say nothing of the fact that Blumenberg himself was often described as Hegelian. (Pippin’s “Hegelianism” is extemely truncated, dropping all appeals to history and remaining within the confines of Kantian epistemic humility.) Returning to Schmitt, there is quite a bit more to his argument than Blumenberg’s analogical claim allows. Thus Blumenberg is mistaken in claiming that Schmitt has only made an analogy rather than shown a transformation. In fact, Blumenberg’s argument that assertion historically transformed itself into practical legitimacy amounts to little more than assuming what needs to proved, and is actually contrary to the historical origins of modernity’s self-understanding.

  4. i don’t get it this constant obsession with this one essay by pippin as if he was the only person who said something substantial on blumenberg.
    it’s boring also to measure the modernitystuff constantly on the same old fellows which again does not do justice to blumenberg. his project stands and falls with the reading of cusanus. which is creative but not unfaithful. equally one cannot do him justice without taking into account his reading of cusanus and his theories on metaphor.

    showing that someone doesn’t measure up to someone else’s standards doesn’t say anythign at all about this very person’s project. it just says it’s a different idea of modernity than bacon had in mind, so what. it’s just going on and saying: see, here i have a quote, here is proof, he has it all wrong. it only shows that people lack the creativity to pursue Blumenberg’s thoughts in detail. measuring blumenberg against the usual suspects will only make him lose.

    blumnberg described as hegelian is one thing, whether he himself was one is another thing (blumenberg the hegelian is one of the absurdest things i ever heard).

    about schmitt-problems i cannot say anything since i have not read him.

  5. Given how often deities are described as “lords” or “kings” or “fathers” in extremely pre-modern texts, secularization has grounds for a countersuit.

    And oh! for the days when Christian eschatology was compatible with a belief in political progress!

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