Beyond Kant and Nietzsche
The Munich Defence of Christian Humanism
Series: Illuminating Modernity
- ISBN: 9780567703163
- Published By: T&T Clark
- Published: August 2021
In Beyond Kant and Nietzsche: The Munich Defence of Christian Humanism, Tracey Rowland profiles six German Catholic thinkers, exploring their respective humanistic visions for a 20th-century culture torn by war and fatigued by the emergent secularism of the preceding century. Though Rowland presents the "Munich Defence" as a unified response to post-Enlightenment German humanism, this is not to suggest homogeneity among the figures considered. Instead, Rowland's work represents a mosaic of robust expressions of the Catholic Weltanschauung (worldview) as responses to the perceived cultural and spiritual threats arising in the wake of German Idealist and Nietzschean ideologies.
Rowland begins with a summary of the life and thought of Carl Muth (1867-1944), a public intellectual and outspoken opponent of Nazism. Along with Paul Huber-Kempten, Muth founded Hochland, a journal in operation from 1903 to Muth's death in 1971, except for 1941-46, when the National Socialists ordered its closure. Hochland served as a significant outlet for the publication of essays on art, history, philosophy, religion, and music, along with several essays critiquing liberalism and fascism. Muth resisted Catholic calls to return to the Middle Ages as myopic and unsustainable. According to Rowland, Muth sought to present an intellectually robust Catholic faith, integrating literature and the arts, as an alternative to the "anti-humanism of a demythologized and thus disenchanted world" (27).
Theodor Haecker (1879-1945), a notable German translator of Søren Kierkegaard, John Henry Newman, and Francis Thompson, held that human beings must seek answers of ultimate existential significance from above. Haecker sought to contrast contemporary secular philosophical and theological anthropologies with a "hierarchical" anthropology in which the deliverances of divine revelation should constitute and clarify what it means to be human. Otherwise, Haecker believed all "ground-up" anthropologies would result in a fractured culture at the mercy of whatever political and social powers held dominance at the time. His scathing critiques of German Idealism, Friedrich Nietzsche, and National Socialism articulate the crisis for European identity and the conception of the individual human subject.
Rowland portrays Theodor Steinbüchel (1888-1949) as an attentive reader of 19th-20th century philosophy, particularly existentialist figures and their predecessors. Like Haecker before him, Steinbüchel drew upon Søren Kierkegaard and Cardinal John Henry Newman as sources of inspiration for responding to secular culture and cultural Christendom. Steinbüchel considered Nietzsche justified in deriding "bourgeois" and moralized representations of Christianity; however, Steinbüchel ultimately believed Nietzsche's target was a virulent "mutant version of Christianity on its deathbed," not the genuine faith given by divine revelation (75). Steinbüchel believed that hearts and minds would be won through theological anthropology, not through aggressive cultural warfare regarding moral normativity. Though Steinbüchel located Nietzsche's potency in his inversion of traditional theological anthropology, he believed Nietzsche failed to engage Christian theology on its proper terms by confusing communal participatory dimensions of theological anthropology with participation in "the herd." Steinbüchel engaged Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoevsky in juxtaposition to illustrate the resemblance between Dostoevsky's humanism and the Catholic Church's anthropology. Rowland contends that Steinbüchel's work on Christian humanism remains poised to initiate a revival of the "self-sacrificial" and "chivalrous dimensions of medieval Christianity in our own times" (89).
Rowland examines Gottlieb Söhngen's (1892-1971) excursus through four different historical "humanisms" and his exhortation of humanistic education for the life of faith. In the Humanitas Christiana of Söhngen, Christian agape, as divine revelation, is the culmination of Platonic eros because both represent heavenly forms of love. Söhngen was influenced by Newman's epistemology and understanding of the cultural conditions of "bourgeois Christianity" as facilitating the creeping secularism of the 20th century. For Söhngen, the Greco-Roman intellectual aims toward ultimate beauty and goodness interconnect with Christianity so that "Agape and Eros, Caritas and Humanitas, cannot avoid relating to one another" (102). Christianity, as it were, fills up what is lacking in Western secular humanism because it has apprehended those eternal truths revealed by revelation that humanity seeks.
Romano Guardini (1885-1968) is portrayed as following Haecker in critiquing modernity's reversal of the primacy of logos over ethos and Steinbüchel in opposing the conformist phenomenon of the "mass man." However, Rowland's account of Guardini suggests his treatments of Nietzsche and, especially, of Kant are far less even-handed than the other two thinkers, as Guardini ranks them, along with Bolshevism, among the three great "enemies of the moral life" (121-7). Interdisciplinary study, Trinitarian theological anthropology, and high esteem for the medieval integration of conceptual thought and imagination with daily practice are some of the essential features of Guardini's humanism.
Erich Przywara (1889-1972) turned to Augustine, Aquinas, and Newman as necessary correctives to the perceived corrosive anthropological and social implications of Nietzschean and Kantian thought. For Przywara, the author of Analogia Entis, Newman's treatment of history proposed an attractive via media between, on the one hand, the Cartesian and Hegelian failure to adequately preserve divine transcendence and the Pascalian and Kierkegaardian overemphasis of this transcendence, on the other (163).
A strength of Rowland's book is that it presents the most salient biographical, philosophical, and theological features of each figure with succinctness and clarity. . The book reads like a work of intellectual history as much as it does a work of theology. Additionally, this work is a novel introduction to six figures who have received relatively little attention from Anglophone audiences and yet exerted a formidable influence upon thinkers such as Joseph Ratzinger, Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Karl Rahner. It is disappointing that Rowland does little in the way of mitigating some of the questionable and uncharitable interpretations of Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, and various Protestants among the figures profiled, as, for example, in Haecker's suggestion that Kierkegaard privileges ethical conduct at the expense of sound doctrine (41-2), or in Pryzwara's treatment of anthropology in Kant and Martin Luther (158-63). Although this book is a defense of the Catholic Weltanschauung, some sort of balancing, critical engagement with, or, at a minimum, acknowledgment of the more contestable representations of non-Catholic thinkers among these six theologians would be welcome.Nevertheless, Rowland has produced a valuable, relevant resource for historical and contemporary conversations on issues related to the transformative power of ideology, the existential significance of theology for the cultivation of personal identity, and the possibilities of embodying the values of a Christian worldview in an increasingly pluralistic public square.
Charles Duke is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy at the University of South Florida.Charles DukeDate Of Review:July 28, 2022