Dr Amit Kumar Sharma

Dr. Amit Kumar Sharma
Department of Sociology,School of Social Sciences,Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi - 110067

German Modernity

German Modernity


In Germany the Enlightment was a quiet backwater which scracely felt the distant stormy seas of the English and French Enlightenment.

Unlike England and France, Germany did not have  an enlightenment revolution in which the rising middle class struck for autonomy and power against a king.

Germany had not taken part in the new commercial and industrial development that had transformed the social, economic, and political structures of England and France and had culminated  in their revolutions of 1688 and 1789.

Germany had no financially strong upper middle class, no flourishing economic interests demanded a  voice in the government as in England and in France. Germany had remained feuded, agricultural and rural while England and France had become industrialized and urban. It had no national unity. The Lutheran Protestant church remained strong espoecially in the north Germany, mretaphysics was taken seriously, science and technology had not developed sufficiently th have social or philosophical importance. Germany was to find another path in Philosophy.

The relatively high proportion of thinkers with varying degees of Jewish backgrounds (Marx, Frend, Husserl, Luka'cs, Adorno, Horkheimer, Wittgenstein, Arendt and Einstein to name the few) can be explained in terms of the 'pariah' status os assimilated Jews in moderning Europe. Assimilating European Jews were both insiders and outsiders of modern  culture, especially Germanophone culture, as such were placed for a time in particular social contexts in which the stresses and contradictions of modernity could be experienced and reflected upon. Such pariahs were the paradigmatic critical thinkers of their time. In this context two christians of Germany emerged as the champion of German Modernity in particular and protestant Modernity in general. These were Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.They were criticised by Friedrich Nietzsche who is regarded as the fountain head of Post-modernity in European Traidtion.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Immanuel Kant produced a paradigmatic revolution in Modern philosophy by synthesising rationalism and empiricism. It is known as
Kantian Revolution (1781) which took place roughly eight years before the French Revolution (1789). His critical philosophical stance has social and political ramifications, namely that no authority should be considered legitimate if it cannot stand up to his mode of philosophical criticism. The legitimation of human freedom is a central aim of his philosophical critique. His work was extended and  modified by Hegel.

Hegel (1770-1831) is less convinced than Kant that enlightened reason could solve humanity's problems whereas Kant was enthused about the rational  ideals of the French Revolution, Hegel's enthusiasm is more measured. Influenced by the German Romantics, Hegel comes to the view that the rationalisation of reason into freedom is not a matter of abstract theorising but of the historical development of possibilities inherent in particular cultures. Thus he does not share an enlightened distain for traditional forms of life which all contain at least the seeds of reason and freedom. Nor does he conceive of the individual self as abstracted from culture but as embedded in it, so that even individuality is a cultural achievement. In general, Hegel's philosophical as well as social and political orientations favour harmony rather than the divisions and distinctions evident in the complexity of modern society and the philosophical systems of his time. Hegel's systematic concept of totality is conceived as a way of overcoming dualisms such as those addressed by Kant's antinomies. In a contrast to moral philosophy of Kant, Hegel stresses the collective or institutional nature of ethical life in the family, civil society and the State., all of which ensure taht duty does not conflict with individual free will. Hegel's appraoch remains idealist in that the subject of history is  a 'spirit' or Geist. He absorbed the Greek and Roman classics alongside scientific ideas, immersed himself in the emerging literature of Geothe and Schiller, trained as a Lutheran pastor and engaged seriously with the German philosophical tradition, especially post-Kantian idealism.He wrote Phenomenology of spirit in 1807. It remains the best introduction to the scope and method of his whole project. It is a seminal work even today.

He suggests that one cannot understand any particular thing without understanding everything else as well: the totality. Hegel's huge system uncovers interconnections which resolve contradictory spheres of experience by reaching the whole of which natural science, art, religion, politics and the various competing philosophies are parts. Past existence is the already acquired property of universal spirit which constitutes the substance of the individual. Spirits is at work behind our backs, propelling us on to the paint where reason becomes conscious through a process of dialectical development and change which constitutes subjectivity in relation to the totality. The notion of dialectics comes from German philosophy's long engagement with the Greeks, especially the neo-Platonists.

Friedrich Nietzsche(1844-1900) is the most important critic of German Modernity represented by Kant and Hegel among others. Using the religious terms of Judaism and Christianity to characterise Western civilization, Nietzsche traces its arrival at a nihilistic impasse in which there is little prospect of life- affirmation, which would require a trans- valuation of all values. His fundamental project is to question the values of Enlightened modernity such as its fascination with scientific truth, its quest for universal moral principles such as equality and its assumption that reason could set humanity free.

He often targeted Kant's nihilistic preference for the real world of noumena over the apparent world of phenomena. According to him genealogy is  a mode of investigation that historicises all values and concepts, including that of truth. Truths or values are not static and eternal, but are subject to the contingency of struggles over interpretation. Human history is a contest between different wills to power: 'everything which happens in the organic world is part of a process of overpowering and mastering is a reinterpretation. Physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world and not a world explanation. Knowledge cannot exist beyond human purposes which both motivate the will to truth and shape it according to human perspective.

Language develops as the tool by which we can render the world knowable, yet the total character of the world is chaos, lacking any order or form. Language, however, enables humans to know the world by creating it in our own image.

In order to become fixed as truths, metaphors had to become reified into concepts over time, during which their usefulness for the species was proved. Interpretations are evaluated according to how life enhancing each is.

यूरोपीय धर्म सुधार आंदोलन का ऐतिहासिक महत्व

Click here to see articles of Dr. Amit Kumar Sharma