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Fall and Redemption: the Romantic alternative to liberal pessimism

Pabst, Adrian (2017) Fall and Redemption: the Romantic alternative to liberal pessimism. Telos, 178 . pp. 33-53. ISSN 0090-6514. (doi:10.3817/0317178033) (KAR id:60230)


From Machiavelli via Hobbes, Locke and Grotius to J.S. Mill and John Rawls, the liberal (and republican) tradition pivots about the primacy of the individual over all forms of human association and allied to this primacy is the replacing of notions of substan¬tive goodness or truth with the ultimate foundation of society upon subjective rights secured by the power of the central state. Those rights are grounded in the human will and the artifice of the social contract that has supplanted older ideas of covenantal relationships governed by a logic of reciprocity or gift-exchange. Liberalism is therefore inherently atomistic and oscillates between the isolated individual and some collective unity either objectively compounded or artificially supposed – ‘Leviathan’ was both. By positing an asocial ‘state of nature’, liberal contractualism purports to invent the artificial order of politics.

By contrast, Romanticism – in the works of Novalis, Schlegel, Carlyle, Coleridge, de Biran and Bulgakov – develops develop in novel ways the ancient and Christian idea that human beings as social, political creatures have a natural desire for objective, substantive values by which to orientate their lives and give them that coherent shape which alone engenders a sense of real fulfilment. This teleological space cannot be equated with the impersonal, absolute sovereignty of national states and transnational markets but requires interpersonal relations within a mediated polity that has a transcendent outlook.

So whereas liberalism merely regulates the evil and violence which it views as primary (and which therefore it perpetuates and even reinforces), Romanticism offers a vision of partial redemption in this life just because the Fall and original sin never fully destroyed the fundamentally peaceful, ontological ordering of the world. Rather, as fallen creatures equally capable of vice and virtue, human beings can discover their own particular purpose and place in society that is ordered to the good of the whole cosmos ultimately rooted in God’s creative action. By practising virtue, we can be redeemed in this life up to a point and we can begin to redeem the promise of an original harmony.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.3817/0317178033
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Adrian Pabst
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2017 18:11 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 00:52 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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