Despite the fact that G.W.F. Hegel remains among the most important sources for contemporary philosophy of religion, theology, and critical theory, the mere mention of his name in religious studies circles tends to elicit agonized groans, expressions of wry amusement, distrust, bafflement, and even disgust. The best one can hope for is a tentative and cautious response: Which version of Hegel are we preparing to discuss? Will it be the thinker of corrosive dialectic or of comprehensive system building? Of secular progress or of dogmatic Christianity? Of revolution or of reaction? Of the death of the finite or of the infinite “life” which comprehends these passing moments? For Hegel, of course, each must be understood dialectically as a part of the “whole,” which alone is the truth, the dynamic expression of thought itself coming into its own, the realization of “Spirit.” Yet a cursory reflection on Hegel’s intellectual and historical legacy makes it clear that we live in and amidst the ruins of Hegel’s system. If, as Hegel famously said, philosophy’s task is to comprehend its own time in thought, then perhaps reading Hegel well means beginning with recognition of this “ruinous” situation. This is the guiding theme of the essays that make up Félix Duque’s Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion, and Community, translated by Nicholas Walker.
Duque is a Spanish philosopher not widely known in Anglophone circles—perhaps Walker’s translation signals a change in this regard. I gather that this is the first of his book-length works to be translated in to English. To that end, a word of introduction may be in order. Duque has not only edited and translated a contemporary Spanish translation of Hegel’s Science of Logic (1812), but is also an eminent thinker in his own right, with decades worth of book-length publications and essays on classical German philosophy, hermeneutics, postmodernism, phenomenology, technics, religion, and politics. Duque’s undeniable erudition is on full display in Remnants of Hegel. Throughout this book, Duque deftly and subtly shifts between and analogizes metaphysical, political, and religious frames with the ease of a scholar who knows the material deeply and intimately. While Duque is sympathetic to the Hegelian diagnoses of the problems of modernity, and undoubtedly finds something of essential significance in Hegelian thought, he situates himself squarely in the camp of those opposed to the viability of Hegel’s speculative solutions.
Indeed, Duque insists throughout that this work is not about Hegel per se—so much as the thematic horizons that open to thought where we carefully and seriously trace out the essential “failures” of Hegelian speculation. Contrary to Hegel, Duque maintains from the outset that “the wounds of Spirit do not necessarily heal without scars” (x). For Duque, adherence to the Hegelian dictum to raise one’s time to the level of thought is to grapple with the extent to which Hegel’s thought relies, at each moment, on a negativity it suppresses—some wound, which it declares closed, but that persistently re-opens. The central task of a “Hegelian hermeneutics,” according to Duque, is thus meditation on metaphysics, religion, and political life as a set of interrelated strategies for coping with this persistent woundedness, the “essential contradiction” which animates the Hegelian Logic. “It is precisely a closure of thinking (an Abgeschlossenheit des Denkens) that implicitly invokes what it has banished from the process of closure itself” (ix).
It is this essential contradiction which frames and animates the interrelated meditations on metaphysics, religion, and political life which follow: substance and subject; God and human; individual and community. Hegel’s “decisive contribution” is to radicalize—rather than to suppress—these oppositions. In so doing he re-describes them in irreducibly relational terms: That which is “reflected” upon in thought is the relation between these “moments," rather than an abstract unity to which the pair of terms can be reduced. Hence famously, for Hegel, the opposition between logic and metaphysics no longer holds good. Given the essentially reconstructive process by which the speculative standpoint is attained, the realization of this reflexivity involves abnegation or self-sacrifice as the “self-positing” of the concrete which, finally, serves to replace Hegel’s earlier, quasi-mystical belief in something like a new dispensation of religious revelation (133). Instead, we are left with a “universal history,” which is neither logic nor nature, but rather “event” (121), and which takes on a sacrificial cast as the “slaughter bench of history.” This unification of transcendence and immanence, logic and nature, god and human, appears in Hegelian religion through the re-location or displacement of the sacred in forms of community, namely the cultus and the state. Hegel’s “slaughter bench of history” is thus not a metaphor; it is the tragic vision of divinity which “not only takes a certain pleasure in blood, but himself flows and bleeds away in the act of human sacrifice, and only eternally recovers himself in the knowing of the evanescent character of that sacrifice” (127). Hegelian mediation, as a sort of logical iteration of the evanescence of destructive sacrifice enacts and represents Spirit as the “wound of time” which exceeds Hegelian “healing” in the Concept. Constitutively wounded by time, the ruination of the Hegelian system appears afresh as a quasi-transcendental wasteland for Duque: “[w]e have always lived amid the ruins. And we too, animals that we are, der Kampf selbst, the struggle itself, in our innermost being, are a ruin of ruins” (134).
Duque’s book is largely meditative and provocative, rather than systematic and constructive; despite his insistence that the work is not simply “about” Hegel, the often allusive style may alienate readers not already well-versed in Hegelian philosophy. Remnants of Hegel is hardly a book for neophytes. Still, there is much food for thought within its pages: philosophers, political theologians, and philosophically-minded theorists of religion are apt to find something useful in it.
W. Ezekiel Goggin is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Skidmore College.
W. Ezekiel Goggin
Date Of Review:
September 9, 2019
Félix Duque is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.
Nicholas Walker has translated many books, including Thomas Hobbes (by Otfried Höffe), also published by SUNY Press.
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