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Kant, Hegel, Marx, Pope Benedict XVI
Encyclical | Critique | Catholic Dogma | Revolution | Historical Analysis | Faith And Materialism / Rationalism | Truth And God | Philosophy: Mind / Faith

The Gospel According To Tomàs

Kant’s analysis of history develops in the context of the French Revolution, i.e. of 1789 and forward, whereby he discovers certain flaws in the notion that the unfolding of reason and so ‘freedom’ will bring humanity to the end of history and inaugurate the Kingdom of, effectively, God-Man. (By way of analysis, it is perhaps pleasingly ironic to note in passing that Francis Fukuyama’s The End Of History And The Last Man required a sequel, as the initial analysis of history proved wrong – and indeed we might usefully consider why that was the case, especially in relationship to understandings of history in terms of economic models; also insofar as the Fukuyama analysis drew upon Kant and Hegel.) It is noted by the Pope that this development took place – the point being partly that attempts to elevate one principle of human being to the level of entirety of purpose, goal, rule, direction, etc, and so to declare a human capacity as being outside of history, are themselves time-bound, by history and all human limitations, our Catholic understanding being that we need God to make us complete, to fulfil our need for anchoring to that which is out of time, and that we are only complete insofar as we are in relationship with God, no effort of our own being capable of replicating this, as reflected in the story of the Tower Of Babel.

Pope Benedict describes a Marxist analysis of history, which develops upon Kant. The Pope’s view is that Marx offers a perceptive analysis of the development of history up to the point of analysis, however Marx did not offer a fully considered and truthfully human program for human development toward the communist ideal. Assumptions were made which Catholics consider to be false. A false view of human nature was presupposed, the false view being that human nature is conditioned – or exclusively determined – in relation to means of production – and we touch here upon the whole body of Marxist theory. Of some interest is to note the expressed sense that human nature is not defined within material, historical, ideological processes. Humans in fact are not defined in relation to theory or, in other words, to human constructs. The general thrust of the Pope’s message is that when humans set up a false god, an ideology, one small desiccated aspect of truth, and so no longer truth, as the whole governing mode of reality, then we can be sure disaster beckons. The experience of the French Revolution is held as testimony to this. That of the USSR is also. Beyond these, we have contemporaneity to consider, and the various ideologies that here prevail.

By way of analysis, I personally find it difficult to read the Pope’s expressions in relation to what I would tend to consider an Hegelian take on history without finding in such expressions a somewhat partial and not-holistic understanding of our life here in this world and in our society – which is a polite way of saying that at times I think the Church might not merely be failing to communicate God’s truth in such a manner as might be readily comprehensible within the particularity of our place and time. There can be, in other words, perhaps, a certain slanting of historical analysis as a short cut to discovering conformity – while in fact obfuscating non-conformity – of history with Catholic truth. It may perhaps be that there is a certain sense at times of tail wagging dog – of the subject’s imposition upon the object – of its own agenda – in the act of seeing. It may be that lines of argument offered with respect to faith and history, and historical theory, may at times seem non-communicative.

There is a danger that we consider critiques of materiality, such as Pope Benedict offers in the document, as banal. There is too a danger that in processes of engagement with rationalist and Enlightenment perspectives, the central truth of the Eucharist can become obscured, and we over-philosophise ourselves, whereas what we could differently be doing would be to stand back and so to see how our various histories of human reason find their way to Reality, and how they do not. Perhaps in our manner of critiquing – or our Catholic stance upon – materialist analyses of history-happening-now, and in refusing full political ownership of now-events, we are in fact evading true alignment with Jesus, and evading ourselves.