return to religion-online

The Interpretation of History by Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

On the Boundary

In the introduction to my Religiöse Verwirklichung (Religious Realization) I had written: "The border line is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge." When I received the invitation to give an account of how my ideas have grown from my life, it came to me that the concept of the border line might be the fitting symbol of the whole of my personal and intellectual development. It has been my fate, in almost every direction, to stand between alternative possibilities of existence, to be completely at home in neither, to take no definitive stand against either. As fruitful as such a position is for thought, since thinking presupposes receptiveness to fresh possibilities, it is difficult and dangerous for life, which steadily demands decisions and thus exclusion of alternatives. From this disposition and these tensions have come both destiny and task.


It is not well to ascribe too much importance to the characters of one’s parents in the shaping of one’s own character. Yet there are parental and ancestral qualities that will recur in the children and remoter descendants in striking fashion, and may cause deep conflicts in them. Whether this is more a matter of heredity or of the impressions of early childhood, may be left an open question. I have never doubted, at any rate, that the union of a father from the Mark and a mother from the Rhineland implanted in me the tension between eastern and western Germany: in the East a meditative bent tinged with melancholy, a heightened consciousness of duty and personal sin, a strong sense for authority, and feudal traditions are still alive; while the West is characterized by zest of living, sensuous concreteness, mobility, rationality, and democracy. It would not be possible, of course, to allocate these two groups of characters to my father and mother respectively. Yet it would seem that it was by way of them that these contradictory qualities were rooted in me—my life, inward and outward, to be enacted on their battleground. The significance of such congenital tendencies lies not in their determining the course of life, but in staking out the scope and supplying the substance within which the fateful decisions must be made in thought and action.

My position on the boundary in all the relations I am to speak of in the following sections would hardly be understandable without that twofold inheritance. In its development the preponderance of my father’s influence, in part due to the early death of my mother, resulted in a situation in which the elements that I ascribe to the maternal side could carry though only in constant and tense contest with the paternal elements. Again and again an eruption would be necessary to give these elements room, and often the eruptions would lead to extremes. Classical composure and harmony were not part of my heritage. This is probably one of the reasons why Goethe’s classical aspect remained alien to me, and why I found Greek antiquity more accessible in its pre- and post-classical periods. Here are also certain psychic premises for my interpretation of history: advocacy of the line forging ahead and making for a point, as against the classical circle that is closed in itself; the positing of two principles wrestling with each other, whose struggle composes the content of history; the theory of dynamic truth, according to which truth itself dwells in the midst of struggle and fate, not in an immobile beyond, as Plato would have it. My essays (See below, pp. 77 ff.and 123 ff. respectively.) "The Demonic: A Contribution to the Interpretation of History," and my essay "Kairos And Logos," develop this as my fundamental attitude perhaps most adequately.


From my fourth to my fourteenth year I lived in the singular medley of a small trans-Elbian town. My father was chief pastor there and superintendent of a church district. In many parts of Germany the small town is characterized sociologically by the curious type of the "plowland townsmen," commonly a well-to-do burgher who manages a relatively good-sized peasant holding from his home in the town. Towns of this sort are endowed with a markedly rustic character: many of the town houses have yards, barns, and gardens attached to them; just a few minutes walk will take one from any part of the town out into the fields; mornings and evenings cattle and sheep are herded through the streets. Nevertheless, these are true towns with their own civic rights and traditions going back to the Middle Ages, surrounding town walls with ancient gates, through which one enters upon narrow streets with serried rows of houses, merchants, and artisan shops. The shielding, sheltering, protective quality of the town, and at the same time its animation, as against the weirdness of forests at night, of silent plowlands and somnolent villages—all that belongs to the first and strongest impressions of my childhood. These were heightened by visits to Berlin, when the railway itself struck me as something half mythical; and thus there developed a yearning, overpowering at times, for the big city.. This resulted later on in many decisions, both with respect to outward and inward matters; and received philosophical expression in the essays "Logos und Mythos" and "Die Technische Stadt" (The Technical City).

Thus I was saved from romantic enmity against technical civilizations and was taught to appreciate the importance of the big city for the critical side of intellectual and artistic life. Later there was added to this a vital and thoughtful understanding of the world of Bohemianism, possible only in the large cities and also an esthetic appreciation of the internal and external immensity of the metropolis; and finally I gained personal experience of the political and social movements that are concentrated in the capital. Without these experiences, and without their resonance in me—without the mythus of the great city, as it were—I should never have come in possession of the material that gave my book The Religious Situation its wide circulation.

And yet my tie with the country lies still deeper down in my soul. Nearly all great memories, and all strong longings are interlaced with landscapes, with the soil and with weather with corn fields, and the smell of autumnal potato foliage, with the forms of clouds, with wind, flowers, and woods. On all my later journeys, too, through Germany and through southern and western Europe, the impressions of the land were the strongest. Schelling’s philosophy of nature, which I read in a state of intoxication, as it were, surrounded by the beauties of nature became for me the direct expression of this feeling for nature.

Most important, however, was the fact that from my eighth year onward annually I spent some weeks, later even months, by the seaside. The experience of the infinite bordering upon the finite, as one has it by the sea, responded to my tendency toward the border and supplied my imagination with a symbol from which feeling could win substance and thinking productivity. It is likely that my development of the theory of the human border-situation in Religiö se Verwirklichung (Religious Realization) and its more anthropological formulation in lectures at Yale University, might not have turned out as it did without that experience of nature. But there is also another element in the contemplation of the sea: the dynamic, the aggression upon the land in its tranquil finiteness, the ecstatic quality of gales and waves. Thus the theory of the "Dynamic Mass" in my essay "Masse und Geist" ("The Mass and the Spirit") was conceived under the immediate impression of the agitated sea. Also for the doctrine of the Absolute as both ground and abyss of dynamic truth, and of the religious essence as the eruption of the eternal into finiteness, the sea supplied the imaginative element needed for these thoughts. It was Nietzsche who said that no idea could be true unless it was thought in the open air. Obedient to the saying, many of my ideas have been conceived in the open, and even much of my writing has been done among trees or on the seaside. A regular rhythm alternating between town and country has always been and still is part of the little that I consider indispensable, and inviolable for my existence.


The particular features of small town life made this border line visible to me at an early age. I attended the common school throughout its grades; I had my friends in it and I shared their animosity against the upper social class, represented by my own parents as also by the families of the burgomaster, the doctor, the apothecary, some merchants, and a few others. Although I had private lessons in Latin in the company of some of the children of this select group, and, later on, attended the gymnasium in a nearby city together with them, my real chums remained the boys of the common school. This led to a good deal of tension with the children of my own social stratum. Throughout my schooldays we remained mutually strangers. My belonging to the privileged class, therefore, early aroused in me that consciousness of social guilt which later was to become of such decisive importance for my work and the course of my life. As far as I can see the encounter, early and intimate, of a sensitive child of the upper classes with children of the lower classes offers only two possibilities: development of a consciousness of social guilt, or social hatred as the response to an aggressive resentment of the lower class children. I have met both types frequently.

This, however, did not exhaust my border-situation in respect to social issues. The church district of which my father was the head included a great many landed proprietors of the old nobility with whom, as church patrons, my parents were in professional and social contact. I was proud of being able to visit these manor houses and to play with the children of these squires. A life-long friendship unites me with a descendant—one indeed of uncommon mental abilities—of one of these families. My position on this border resulted in my opposition to the bourgeoisie, to which in point of class I belong myself, and prevented me from becoming myself bourgeois, as was so often the case among socialists; on the contrary, I made the attempt to incorporate into socialism those elements of the feudal tradition which have an inward affinity with the socialist idea. The special elaboration of religious socialism attempted by me first in the Grundlinien des religiösen Sozialismus (Principles of Religious Socialism), then in my book Die sozialistische Entscheidung (Socialistic Decision) has its roots in this attitude. It was, therefore, only with difficulty and under the compulsion of the political situation that I could make myself join the party which had become as bourgeois as the social-democratic party of Germany. The essay "On the Problem of Power," (See also pp. 179ff.) which has to do with those experiences of my youth, has missed comprehension probably for this reason at the hand of the bourgeois pacifism even of some of my friends.

This is the place also for a word about the civil service which in Germany, more than anywhere else, forms a separate stratum with its own particular traditions. In the narrower sense I must be reckoned as belonging to it, both as son of a pastor who was at the same time a church and school functionary, and as one-time professor at a Prussian university. What Prussian "bureaucracy" means finds perhaps its clearest expression in Kant’s Practical Philosophy: Superiority of the idea of duty over anything else, the valuation of order and law as highest norms, the tendency to centralize the power of the state and subjection to the military and civil authorities, and a conscious subordination of the members of the organic whole. It would be justifiable, therefore, if one derived from this very ideology of the Prussian bureaucracy the tendency of many German philosophies toward an harmonious system in philosophical theory and political practice. At any rate, as far as I am concerned, I am most conscious of this interrelation which is evident both in my Entwurf eines Systems der Wissenschaften (Outline of a System of the Sciences), and in the promptness with which I subordinated myself to the military and civil authorities during peace and war times; and finally, in my adhesion to a political party, the program of which I opposed in a large measure. Of course I am quite conscious of the limitations of this attitude: the tremendous weight and pressure of conscience, which every personal decision and every violation of the traditions bring with it, the lack of decision toward the new and unexpected, and the desire for an all-embracing order, which would reduce the venture of personal decisions.

The deep-rooted protest against the distinct bourgeois type of life was expressed in my affection for the small social group, for which the name "Bohême" is actually no longer an adequate term; which, however, has kept a joint relation of intellectual productivity and criticism and genuine non-bourgeois life in theory and practice. Artists, actors, journalists, and writers had a decided influence within this group.

As theologian and academician I stood at the border line. This group recognized itself by an obvious lack of certain bourgeois conventionalities in thought and manners, and by an intellectual radicalism and a marked ability for ironical self-criticism. They met not only in certain cafés, houses, parlors, but also at certain places at the seashore, not frequented by the lower middle class. They were inclined toward radical political criticism and felt more akin with the communist worker than with the members of their own class. They lived in the international movements of art and literature, were sceptical, religiously radical and romantic; influenced by Nietzsche, antimilitaristic, psychoanalytical and expressionistic.

The opponent of this group was neither the feudal man nor well-to-do bourgeois; both were represented in the "Bohême." They sought admittance to it successfully and in exchange offered social and economic privileges. Its opponent was the small bourgeois, the middle class with its prejudices, its pretensions, its remoteness from the intellectual, especially from problems of artistic nature, its need of security and its distrust of the intelligentsia. The fact also, that I never stood seriously on the border of the small bourgeois type of life, but rather, like many of the same group repudiated it with an apparent, even if half-unconscious, arrogance, brought about an intellectual and personal destiny; intellectual, insofar as the striving to come out of every sort of narrowness brought constantly into the range of vision new possibilities and realms, and made the limitation, which is necessary for every intellectual and social realization, difficult; personal, insofar as the middle-class militaristic revolution affected the described group most forcibly and destroyed it with its intellectual and economic presuppositions. The answer to this partly justifiable, partly unjustifiable repudiation of the lower middle class by the intelligentsia, was the hateful persecution of German intelligentsia by the representatives of the romantic middle-class ideology.


The difficulties I experienced in coming to terms with reality transported me at an early age into the life of phantasy. For some years certain imaginative worlds constituted true reality for me, into which I withdrew as often as possible from the external reality not taken seriously by me. That was the time from my fourteenth to my seventeenth year of age. At the end of that period the romantic imagination was ultimately transmuted into the philosophical imagination, which ever since has stayed by me, for good and ill: for good, in that I owed to it my ability to combine what is far off, to perceive things abstract concretely, I would almost say colored, to experiment with possibilities in ideas; for ill, inasmuch as this ability involves the danger of mistaking the creatures of imagination for realities; that is, to neglect experience and rational critique, to think in monologues instead of dialogue, to isolate oneself from the communal work of science. No matter whether advantages or disadvantages preponderated in this disposition, it prevented me (in conjunction with secular circumstances) from becoming a "scholar" in the typical sense of that word—I might add, a widely prevalent phenomenon in that generation of transition to which I belong.

The imagination manifests itself, among other things, in the delight in play. This delight has accompanied me throughout my life, in play proper, in sports, taken by me playfully, and in spirit of dilettantism, never seriously, in the social play, in the playful emotion that accompanies the productive moments and makes them the expression of the most beatific form of human freedom. The romantic theory of play, Nietzsche’s preference for play to "the spirit of heaviness," Kierkegaard’s "esthetic sphere," the imaginative element in mythology have ever been attractive to me and ever dangerous. Perhaps it has been the sense of this danger which drove me more and more toward the uncompromising seriousness of prophetic religion. What I wrote in my book Die sozialistische Entscheidung (Socialistic Decision) about mythological consciousness was written not only in protest against the ultimate lack of seriousness of nationalist paganism, but as much against the conquered mythical-romantic element in myself.

The highest form of play and the truly productive abode of imagination is Art. Though I am myself productive in no field of artistic creation or re-creation, I yet gained a connection with art which in some respects acquired controlling importance for my scientific labors. My father carried on the musical traditions of the evangelical pastor’s household, himself creating musical works. With architecture and the fine arts he had no commerce, in line with the great majority of typical Protestants. Since I am not musical, and there was at first no access to the graphic arts, my longing for art turned to literature, which was in line with the humanistic education of the German gymnasium. Shakespeare became particularly important for me, in the classical German translation by Schlegel. With figures like Hamlet I have identified myself to the danger point. My instinctive sympathy for what in contemporary Germany is called existential philosophy undoubtedly goes back, to a certain extent, to the excitement created in me by this most precious work of secular literature viewed existentially. Neither Goethe nor Dostoievsky had an equal effect upon me. Dostoievsky came too late into my line of vision, and Goethe’s work seemed to me to express too little of the "border-situation" in Kierkegaard’s sense; it did not appear to me existential enough, a judgment indeed which I feel will have to be revised as I grow more mature. Even after the Hamlet period, which lasted some years, my capacity for complete identification with creatures of the poetic fancy was preserved. And the specific mood, the odor, as it were, of certain weeks, of months, of my life would be determined by this or that literary work, later, above all, by novels, of which I read few, but those with great intensity.

Literature still contains too much philosophy to be able fully to satisfy the desire for pure artistic contemplation. Thus the discovery of painting was for me an experience of decisive importance. It happened during the four years of war, as a reaction from the gruesomeness, the ugliness, and destructiveness of war. From my pleasure in the poor reproductions that were obtainable at the military bookstores in the fields there grew a systematic study of the history of art. From this study came the experience of art, chief of all that first experience, like a revelation, of a picture by Botticelli when I went to Berlin on my last furlough of the War. Upon experience followed reflection and philosophic and theologic interpretation, which led me to the fundamental categories of my philosophy of religion and culture, namely, form and content. It was above all expressionism, developed in German painting in the first decade of the twentieth century and winning public recognition after the War though not without severe struggles against "Philistine" incomprehension, that opened my eyes to the form-destroying power of the content and the creative ecstasy which is its necessary result. The concept of the "break-through," dominant in my theory of revelation, was one in connection with it. Later when a turn from the initial expressionism to a new realism set in, I obtained from the contemplation of the thus originated style the conception of the "beliefful realism," the central conception of my book The Religious Situation which accordingly is dedicated to an artist friend. The impression of various representations of personalities and masses in the art history of the Occident yielded inspiration and material for a lecture which I prepared on "Mass and Personality." My growing inclination toward the old Church and her solutions of the problems of "God and the World," "State and Church," were nourished by the overwhelming impression made upon me by early Christian art in Italy. What no amount of study of church history had brought about was accomplished by the mosaics in ancient Roman basilicas. My relations to painting found a direct precipitate in the article "Stil und Stoff in der bildenden Kunst" (Style and Material in Plastic Art), in my address at the opening of the exposition of religious art at Berlin, above all in the relevant parts of the "System der Wissenschaften" (System of the Sciences), in my Religionsphilosophie (Philosophy of Religion), and in my The Religious Situation.

The living experience of modern painting at the same time opened for me the way to modern German literature, as especially represented for me by Hofmannsthal, George, Rilke, and Werfel. The strongest impression was made on me by Rilke’s late poetry. Its profound psychoanalytical realism, the mystical fulness, the form charged with metaphysical content, all that made this poetry the expression of what in the concepts of my philosophy of religion I could seize only abstractedly. To me and my wife, who made poetry accessible to me, these poems became a book of devotion, to be taken up again and again.


There was never any doubt in my own mind or in the judgment of others that I was marked out for theory, and not for practical activity. Beginning with the first crisis, at the age of eight when I encountered the conception of the "Infinite," through the passionate absorption of Christian dogmatics in school and in pre-confirmation instruction, and through the eager devouring of popular books on Weltanschauung, it was clear that theoretical and not practical mastery of existence would be my task and destiny. Education in a humanistic gymnasium, enthusiasm for the Greek language and literature strengthened the given disposition. I have verified innumerable times Aristotle’s conviction expressed in the Nikomachean Ethics, that pure theory alone offers pure eudæmonia. My internal struggles for the truth of traditional religion also held me fast in the sphere of theory. In the life of religion, however, theory means something other than philosophical contemplation of Being. In religious truth the stake is one’s very existence and the question is to be or not to be. Religious truth is existential truth, and to that extent it cannot be separated from practice. Religious truth is acted—in accord with the Gospel of St. John.

It soon revealed itself, moreover, that one-sided devotion to theory rested upon the same escape from reality as the flight into phantasy already mentioned. As soon as this escape was overcome and practical tasks confronted me, I threw myself upon them with full ardor, partly with profit, partly with harm to my further progress in theory. The first instance of this kind was in the student organization Wingolf, of which I was an active member throughout my student days. The tensions between the Christian principles of that organization and modern liberal ideas in theory and practice, and the personal tensions that readily assume radical forms in communities of fifty or more young men, gave rise to a great many problems of practical policy, especially during the time when I had to direct such an organization. The conflict over the principles of a Christian community was then so thoroughly fought out in the Wingolf union, that all who took an active share in it carried away a life-long acquisition. From that source I gained understanding for objective constructions like the confessions of a Church, the meaning of which transcend subjective belief or doubt, and which are thus able to support communities, in which all tendencies of doubt, criticism and certainty are admitted, provided only that the confessional foundation of the community is given general recognition.

My university studies were succeeded by two years of church work and four years as field chaplain on the Western Front. After the War there was a short period of participation in tasks of church administration. In these years of practical activity theoretical work was not interrupted, although, of course, much restricted. This period of immersion in practical work, however, in no way shook my basic devotion to the life of theory.

The conflict between theory and practice became harder for me when, on the outbreak of the revolution, politics for the first time forcefully impressed themselves upon my attention. Like most of the intellectuals of Germany before the War, my attitude toward politics had been essentially one of indifference. Neither did the ever-present consciousness of social guilt express itself in a political will. Only in the last year of the War, and in the months of collapse and revolution did the political backgrounds of the World War, the interrelation between Capitalism and Imperialism, the crisis of bourgeois society, the class cleavage, and so forth, become visible to me. The immense pressure that had rested upon us during the War, threatening to obscure the idea of God, or to color it demonically, found relief in the discovery of the human responsibility for the War and in the hope of the refashioning of human society. Thus, when soon after the revolution the call was sounded for the religious-socialist movement I could not and would not refuse it. At first, indeed, that meant only theoretical work on the problem of "religion and socialism." The working circle I belonged to was a group of professors: Mennicke, Heimann, Löwe, and others, all explicitly concerned with theory. But the goal of the work was ultimately political; thus it was inevitable that a number of problems of practical politics developed, leading to conflicts between theoretical and practical attitudes. This was the case in three directions: religious socialism touches the Churches, the political parties, and, inasfar as we were professors, it touched the universities also.

In the Evangelical Church a "league of religious socialists" had been formed with the aim of closing the chasm between the Church and the social-democratic party, by measures of church policy as well as by theoretical reflection. Under the impression that the theoretical foundations were not laid deep enough, I kept, perhaps unjustifiably, aloof from this group and thus from the opportunity of being active in Church politics. In this case the conflict between theory and practice was decided wholly in favor, though perhaps not altogether for the benefit, of theory.

It was not otherwise in my relation to the social-democratic party, to which I belonged in recent years, so that I might be able to influence it by elaborating the theory. To that end I, together with my friends of the religious-socialist working group and a group of young socialists, founded the periodical Neue Blätter für den Sozialismus. We hoped that in this way we might revitalize the ideology of German socialism that had become rigid, and to refashion it from the standpoint of religious and philosophical reflection. I myself kept aloof from practical political activity, whereas many of my co-workers were in the thick of it, and our periodical was thereby drawn into the tension of the existing political situation. I did not decline participation in the face of definite tasks. But I did not look for such tasks—perhaps again to the detriment of a theory which was to serve the political aim and supply a conceptual expression to the movement of the political group. On the other hand, even the relatively rare contacts with practical politics impaired the scientific concentration which just in those years was demanded with special urgency by my profession. This tension reached basic expression in the considerations and discussions that turned about the reconstitution of the German university.

After the revolution the demand arose ever more insistently for a reconstruction of the university. In the course of the nineteenth century the old humanistic ideal of classicism had been destroyed by the specialization of the sciences, and by the increasing quantitatively and qualitatively demands of professional training. The rush of students that set in after the War made a course of education in the spirit of a universal humanistic development of personality completely impossible. Weak compromises sought to cover up this contradiction between ideal and reality. I then set forth, in an essay published in the Frankfurter Zeitung, which prompted a storm of endorsement and protest, a scheme of the twofold course of study: on one side professional schools, on the other a humanistic faculty, free from the tasks of professional training, as a representative of the old university idea; both interrelated, yet different in aim and method. The humanistic faculty was to be ruled by a philosophy which, according to the original idea of philosophy was to answer the question of our human existence by means of the Logos; there was to be radical questioning without respect to political or religious allegiances, but the philosophy was to be at the same time fully informed by the spiritual and social problems of contemporary life. This is the demand to be made upon any great creative philosophy. It was a sign of its weakness that philosophy in the nineteenth century, with few exceptions, became ever more a thing of the schools, of the "professors of philosophy." It is, however, no less destructive to philosophy when the twentieth century endeavors to suppress radical questions by political means and confers forceable validity upon a political view of the world. The "political university" aimed at in these days has sacrificed theory to practice, which, like its opposite, is fatal to both. The border between theory and practice has become a battlefield, on which the fate of the university to come, and therewith of humanistic culture in the civilized world, will be decided.


It was only in severe struggles that it was possible for me to break through to the affirmation of mental and moral autonomy. My father’s authority, which was at once personal and intellectual, and which because of his position in the Church, coincided for me with the religious authority of revelation, made every manifestation of autonomous thinking a piece of religious daring, and involved the critique of authority in a sense of guilt. The immemorial experience of mankind, that new knowledge can be won only through breaking a taboo, that all autonomous thinking is accompanied by a consciousness of guilt, has been a fundamental experience of my own life. It had as positive consequence that every step in theological, ethical, and political criticism encountered inhibitions, which often could be overcome only after conflicts lasting for years. That heightened the significance such insights had for me, their seriousness, and weight. When I would advance, often much belated, to some knowledge that long before had become matter-of-course and commonplace to the average intelligence, it assumed in my apprehension the character of surprise, pregnant with revolutionary implications. Intelligence freely afloat, as it were, was, therefore, suspect to me. My trust in the creative power of autonomous thought was slight. Thus I delivered a series of university lectures that dealt explicitly with the inwardly necessitated catastrophe of purely autonomous thought. The development of Greek philosophy from the first appearance of rational autonomy up to its decline into scepticism and probabilism and its inversion into the "new archaicism" of late antiquity were for me the great historical proof of the inability of autonomy to create a world with any content from within itself. In lectures on medieval philosophy, the intellectual history of Protestantism, and in my essay The Religious Situation, I applied this leading idea to the development in the Occident, and derived from it the demand for a theonomy, that is, an autonomy filled with religion.

The critique of pure autonomy was not meant to smooth the way to a new heteronomy. Submission to divine and secular authorities, i.e., heteronomy, was precisely what I, for my own self, had rejected; and to it I neither want to, nor can return. If the trend of events in Europe is currently quite doubtlessly under the sign of a return to old and new heteronomies, that can awaken only passionate protest in me, even when I realize the fated inevitability of this development. An autonomy won in hard struggle cannot be surrendered so readily as an autonomy that had always been accepted as matter-of-course. Whoever has once broken determinedly with the taboos of the most sacred authorities cannot subject himself to a new heteronomy, whether religious or political. That such a submission should have become easy for so many in our day is caused by the circumstance that their authority had become empty and sceptical. Freedom that has not been fought for, for which no sacrifices have been made, is easily cast aside. Only so (sociological causes aside) does the yearning of European youth toward a new bondage become intelligible.

From earliest times I was opposed to the most potent system of religious heteronomy, Roman Catholicism, with a protest which was at once both protestant and autonomous. This protest was not directed and does not direct itself in spite of theological contrasts to the dogmatic values or the liturgical forms of the Catholic system, but is concerned with its heteronomous character, with the assertion of a dogmatic authority, which is valid even when subjection to it is only external. Only once in my life the thought of possibly joining Catholicism penetrated into a deeper realm of my consciousness,—even if not the deepest,—when during the year 1933, prior to the resurgence of German Protestantism the alternative seemed to confront me, between either Christian or heathen Catholicism, the Roman Church or national heathenism in Protestant garb. In choosing between these two heteronomies, the decision for the Christian one would have become imperative. The choice was not necessary, because the German Protestant Church remembered its Christian principle.

But the struggle between autonomy and heteronomy returns on a higher plane in Protestantism. Precisely in the protest against the Protestant orthodoxy (even in its moderate form of the nineteenth century) I had won my way through to autonomy. Thus at this point, my fundamental theological problem arose: the relation of the absolute, which is assumed in the idea of God, and of the relative, which belongs to human religion. The dogmatism of religions, including that of Protestant orthodoxy and the ultimate phase of dialectic theology is established in the fact, that a portion of human-religious reality is garbed in the unconditioned validity of the divine. Such a reality, like a book, person, a community, an institution, or doctrine, claims absolute authority and lays claim to submission of every other kind of reality, life, and doctrine; for no other claim can exist beside the unconditioned claim of the divine. But that this claim is established by a finite, historical reality, is the root of all heteronomy and of all demonry. For the demonic is something finite, something limited, which puts on infinite unlimited dignity. Its demonic character is evident therein, that sooner or later another finite reality with the same claim will stand in opposition to it, so that the human consciousness will be severed between the two. Karl Barth said that my negative attitude to heteronomy and my use of the word demonic for it, is a continuous struggle against the "Grand Inquisitor," (in the sense of Dostoievsky’s story) a struggle which is no longer necessary today. I think that the development of the German Confessional Church in the last two years has proved that it is necessary. The "Grand Inquisitor" is about to enter the Confessional Church, and strictly speaking, with a strong but tight-fitting armor of Barthian Supranaturalism. This very narrow attitude of the Barthians saved the German Protestant Church; but it created at the same time a new heteronomy, an anti-autonomous and anti-humanistic feeling, which I must regard as an abnegation of the Protestant principle. For Protestantism is something more than a weakened form of Catholicism, only when the protest against every one of its own realizations remains alive within it. This protest is not rational criticism but a prophetic judgment. It is not autonomy, but theonomy, even if it appears, as often in prophetic struggles, in very rational and humanistic forms. In the theonomous, prophetic word, the contradiction of autonomy and heteronomy is overcome. But if protest and prophetic criticism are a part of Protestantism every moment, the question arises: How can a realization of Protestantism come about? Realization in worship, sermon, and instruction assumes forms, which can be imparted. Ecclesiastical reality, the reality of the personal religious life, yes, even the prophetic word itself assumes a sacramental foundation, an abundance from which they live. Life cannot stand only on its own border, but it must stand also in its center, in its own abundance. The critical principle and the Protestant protest is a necessary corrective, but it is not constructive. In conjunction with a number of co-workers I attempted an essay on Protestantismus als Kritik und Gestaltung (Protestantism as Criticism and Construction) in my second volume in the series entitled Kairos, to give an answer to the question concerning the Protestant realization. The title of my chief theological work, Religiöse Verwirklichung (Religious Realization), was prompted by this problem. Protestantism must exist in the constant tension between the sacramental and the prophetic, the constitutive and corrective element. Were both these elements to fall apart, the former would become heteronomous and demonic, the latter, empty and sceptical. Their unity, as symbol and reality, seems to me to be given in the New Testament picture of the crucified Christ, insofar that here the highest human religious possibility is assumed and annulled at the same time. The final events in the German Church and the arising of new pagan movements upon the soil of Christianity have given a new importance to the problem of religious autonomy and heteronomy. The question of the final criterion for human thinking and acting has become acute today, to an extent never seen since the struggle between Roman Paganism and ancient Christianity. The attack upon the cross as the criterion of every form has made visible anew the meaning of the cross. The question of heteronomy and autonomy has become the question of the final criterion of human existence. In the struggle regarding this question, the fate of German Christianity, of the German Nation, and generally of the Christian nations is being decided now.

Every political system has need of authority, not only in the sense of possessing instruments of force, but also in the sense of a silent or implicit consent of the people. (Cf. my essay "Problem of Power.") (See pp. 179 ff.) But such consent is possible only when the group carrying the power represents an idea which is both potent and decisive. Out of it a relationship of authority and autonomy in political life follows, which I have characterized in my essay: Der Staat als Erwartung und Aufgabe (The State as Promise and Task) as follows: every political structure presupposes power, consequently also, a group which has power. But, as this group, which has the power is at the same time always a group of interests, which is opposed to other groups of interests, it is therefore in need of a corrective. Democracy is justifiable and necessary, insofar that it is a method, which injects correctives against the misuse of political authority. But this method is impossible as soon as it hinders the appearance of a group which has power. That was the case in the German Republic, the democratic form of which made it impossible for any group to gain authority from the start. On the other hand, the corrective against the misuse of authority by the group, having power, is lacking in the dictatorial systems, resulting in the enslavement of the entire nation and in the corruption of the ruling classes. As early as the time of my first political decision, which I had to make a few years before the War, after reaching voting age, I stood on the side of the political Left, even though the strongest conservative traditions had to be defied. It was a protest against political heteronomy, that prompted me at an earlier time in political life, just as previously the protest against the religious heteronomy had guided me to the side of liberal theology. In spite of all later criticism of economic liberalism, it was and is impossible for me to associate myself with the all too-common criticism of "liberal thinking." I would rather be accused of being "liberalistic" myself, than aid in discounting the great and truly human element in the liberal idea, autonomy, with this disparaging phrase.

Nevertheless, the question of political authority remains urgent in a period in which the most difficult inner-political problem is the re-integration of the disintegrated masses of late capitalism. I have dealt with this problem in connection with the German events, in an essay: "The Totalitarian State and the Claim of the Churches," published in Social Research (November 1934), and stressed in it the inevitability of an authoritative incorporation of masses, when they have become bereft of all meaningful life. Likewise, one can find fundamental thoughts to the problem in my book, Masse and Geist (Mass and Spirit), which appeared soon after the War, especially in the chapter, "Masse und Persönlichkeit" (Mass and Personality). In this chapter I suggest that only specialized groups of esoteric character ought to realize the autonomous attitude. The retreat to an esoteric autonomy seems to me to be demanded on account of historical destiny, both in late antiquity and at the present time. Just how this retreat might be effected, without too great a loss of truth and justice is the problem of intellectual strategy of future generations, both in the political and religious spheres. I am determined to stand on the border of autonomy and heteronomy, not only principally but also historically. I have concluded to remain on this border, even if the coming period of human history should stand under the emblem of heteronomy.


The border-situation from which I am endeavoring to explain my existence, is in no way more openly revealed than here. From the time of my last years at the gymnasium, it had been my wish to become a philosopher. I used every free hour to read philosophical books, which came into my hands by chance. Thus, I came upon Schwegler’s History of Philosophy (Geschichte der Philosophie) in the dusty corner of a country parson’s bookshelf; Fichte’s Theory of Science (Wissenschaftslehre) on top of a wagon of books on a street in Berlin; and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in the Reclam edition, which was purchased with a beating heart from a bookstore for the immense sum of one mark. Exact excerpts, namely those of Fichte’s Theory of Science, put me in touch with the most difficult phases of German philosophy. Discussions with my father, who was an examiner in philosophy on the Theological Examining Committee, enabled me, from the first semester on, successfully to carry on discussions every night with older students and young academicians about idealism and realism, freedom and determinism, God and the world. Fritz Medicus, who was formerly professor at the University of Halle, and who at the present time is professor in Zurich, became my teacher in philosophy. His writings on Fichte gave the first impulse to the rediscovery of Fichte’s philosophy in the first decade of the present century, which broadened out soon to a renaissance of German Idealism in general. Partly by chance of a bargain purchase, and partly by inner affinity I came under the influence of Schelling, whose collected works I read through several times with enthusiasm, and concerning whom I wrote my theses both for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and Licentiate of Theology. The latter has been published under the title, Mystik und Schuldbewusstsein in Schellings philosophischer Entwicklung (Mysticism and Sense of Guilt in Schelling’s Philosophical Development).

During the writing of these works, I was a student of Protestant theology, and at the conclusion of my studies became assistant pastor at various parishes of the Old Prussian United Church. At that time, Martin Kähler and Wilhelm Lütgert from Halle were my most important teachers. The former was a personality of overwhelming ethical and religious power and intellectual concentration; as teacher and writer difficult to understand; the profoundest and in many respects the most modern representative of the theology of mediation of the nineteenth century; an opponent of Albert Ritschl, herald of the theological doctrine of justification, and critic of idealism and humanism, out of which he himself evolved.

I am indebted to him primarily for the insight he gave me into the all-controlling character of the Pauline-Lutheran idea of justification. The doctrine of justification on the one hand rends every human claim in the face of God and every identification of God and man. On the other hand, it shows how the decadence of human existence, guilt, and despair, is overcome by the paradoxical judgment, that the sinner is just before God. My Christology and Dogmatics were determined by the interpretation of the cross of Christ as the event of history, in which this divine judgment over the world became concrete and manifest. From this point of view it was easy for me to make a connection between my own theology and that of Karl Barth and to accept the analysis of human existence as given by Kierkegaard and Heidegger. However, it was difficult and even impossible for me to find an approach to liberal dogmatics, which replaces the crucified Christ by the historical Jesus, and which dissolves the paradox of justification into moral categories.

This negative attitude, to be sure, pertains only to the liberal dogmatics, not to the energetic historical accomplishment of the liberal theologians. At this point I parted soon from the teachings of the theologians in Halle and became less and less in accord with the new Supranaturalism, which has grown up within Barth’s theology, and wishes to repeat the dogmatic doctrines of the Age of the Reformation, by discarding the scientific work of two hundred years. At first it was the interpretation of the Old Testament by Wellhausen and Gunkel, the so-called religions- geschichtliche Methode, which fascinated me and revealed to me the Old Testament in its fundamental meaning for Christianity and humanity. My preference for the Old Testament and the spirit of prophetic criticism and expectation has stayed with me, and through the bearing of this upon my political attitude, it has become decisive for the shaping of my life and thought.

My historical insights into the New Testament I owe principally to Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus and Bultmann’s Synoptische Tradition. Ernst Troeltsch caused my final transfer of interest from all mediating-theological and apologetic remnants in Church History and in the problem of historical criticism. An authoritative proof for my development are those theses, presented during Whitsuntide in 1911, to a group of theological friends, in which I raised and attempted to answer the question, how the Christian doctrine might be understood, if the non-existence of the historical Jesus should become historically probable. Even today, I maintain the radicalism of this question over against compromises, which I encountered at an earlier time, and are now attempted again by Emil Brunner. The foundation of Christian belief is not the historical Jesus, but the biblical picture of Christ. The criterion of human thought and action is not the constantly changing and artificial product of historical research, but the picture of Christ as it is rooted in ecclesiastical belief and human experience. The fact, that I took this position, resulted in my being regarded as a radical theologian in Germany, whereas in America, one is inclined to place me among the Barthians. But agreement with the Barthian paradox, the paradox of justification, does not mean agreement with the Barthian Supranaturalism; and agreement with historical and critical achievement of liberal theology does not mean agreement with liberal dogmatics.

The possibility of uniting the doctrine of justification and radical historical criticism was accomplished by an interpretation of the idea of justification, which was of greatest importance to me, both practically and personally; namely, the application of the doctrine of justification to the realm of human thought. Not only our action, but also our thought is under the divine "No." No one, not even one who believes, and not even a Church can boast of the truth, just as no one can boast of love. Orthodoxy is intellectual pharisaism. The justification of the one who doubts corresponds to the justification of the one who sins. Revelation is just as paradoxical as forgiveness of sins, and can become an object of possession as little as the latter. I have presented the development of these thoughts in my pamphlets, "Rechtfertigung und Zweifel" (Justification and Doubt) and "Die Idee der Offenbarung" (The Idea of Revelation).

The relation of these fundamental thoughts of theology to my philosophical development was determined, first of all, by the work of Schelling, particularly the ideas of his later period. I thought that, fundamentally, I had found the union of theology and philosophy in the philosophical explanation of the Christian doctrine through the older Schelling, in his founding of a Christian philosophy of existence in contrast to Hegel’s humanistic philosophy of essence and in his interpretation of history as the History of Salvation. I must confess, that even today, I find more "theonomous philosophy" in Schelling than in any of the other idealists. But to be sure, not even Schelling was able to bring about a unity of theology and philosophy. The World War in my own experience was the catastrophe of idealistic thinking in general. Even Schelling’s philosophy was drawn into this catastrophe. The chasm, which without doubt, Schelling had seen, but soon had covered up again, opened itself. The experience of the four years of war tore this chasm open for me and for my entire generation to such an extent, that it was impossible ever to cover it up. If a reunion of theology and philosophy should again become possible, it could be achieved only in such a way as would do justice to this experience of the abyss of our existence. Thus, my philosophy of religion came into existence as an attempt to satisfy this demand. My philosophy of religion abides consciously on the border of theology and philosophy. It takes care not to lose the one in the other. It attempts to express in philosophical concepts the experience of the abyss and the idea of justification as limitation of philosophy. A lecture, "Die Ueberwindung des Religionsbegriffes in der Religionsphilosophie" (The Elimination of the Concept Religion in the Philosophy of Religion), delivered before the Berlin Kant Society, expresses in its title the paradox of this attempt.

But philosophy of religion is not only determined by the religious reality but also by the philosophical concept. My own philosophical attitude developed itself in the critical analysis of Neo-Kantianism, of the Philosophy of Values, and Phenomenology. From all three I accepted their denial of Positivism, particularly in the form in which it is important for the philosophy of religion, namely as Psychologism. Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen (Studies in Logic), in which Psychologism is overcome in a most forceful way, were for me the most satisfying confirmations of what I had learned from Kant and Fichte. But I could not quite attach myself to any of the three tendencies: not to Neo-Kantianism, because, in consequence of his panlogistical tendency, he was not able to give expression to the experience of the abyss and to the paradox; not to the philosophy of values, because it is still Neo-Kantian and because its attempt to comprehend religion as a sphere of values contradicts the transcendence of values, which is assumed in the experience of the abyss; not to phenomenology, because in it the dynamic element is lacking, and because it furthers catholic-conservative tendencies, as can be proven by the biography of the majority of its representatives (corresponding to the affinity of Neo-Kantianism to the Jewish principle). As I stood in opposition to all three, I felt myself most attracted to the philosophy of life under the overpowering impression of Nietzsche, whom I did not come to know until my thirtieth year. In his philosophy of life the experience of the abyss has been expressed more clearly than in any of the other types of thought. The historical dependence of the philosophy of life on Schelling made it easy for me to approach it. The ecstatic form of existence, which prevailed so widely during the first years after the War, as a reaction against the years of death and hunger during the War, made "the philosophy of life" very attractive even in the esthetic sense. Thus, it is quite probable that my philosophical development would have gone in this direction and assumed pagan elements in place of Jewish and Catholic ones, if the experience of the German Revolution in 1918 had not given to my thinking a new decisive direction: to a sociologically oriented and politically formed philosophy of history. The philosophy of history was prepared and supported by Ernst Troeltsch. I remember clearly his assertion in his first lecture in Berlin on the philosophy of history, that this subject was being treated for the first time since Hegel’s death in a philosophical lecture at the University of Berlin. But I distinguished myself from Troeltsch, in spite of far-reaching agreements in the problems, by repudiating his idealistic point of departure, which made it finally impossible for him to lift the ban of historical Relativism, which he sought to oppose. The breach with historical Relativism did not come about until there was a generation which was brought face to face with final historical decisions. In the light of such a decision, which was founded and likewise limited by the Christian paradox, I attempted to conceive a philosophy of history which has gone into philosophical discussion as a philosophy of history of religious socialism.

Any one, standing on the border of philosophy and theology, will find it necessary to get a clear conception of the scientific relation of both. I made this attempt in my book, System der Wissenschaften (System of the Sciences). My final concern here was the question: "How is theology possible as a science? How is it related, like its several offsprings, to the other sciences? What is outstanding in its method?"

I tried to win for theology a legitimate place in the totality of knowledge in the following way: division of all methodical knowledge into sciences of thinking, being, and culture; further, by the development of a philosophy of meaning as a foundation of the whole system; then by the definition of metaphysics as an attempt of the human mind to express the unconditioned in terms of rational symbols; and finally, by the definition of theology as theonomous metaphysics. The presupposition of the success of this attempt is, of course, that the theonomous character of knowing be acknowledged; that is to say, that thinking is rooted in the absolute as the foundation and abyss of meaning. Theology makes its subject expressly that which is the assumption of all knowledge, even though the assumption be unexpressed. Thus, theology and philosophy, religion and knowledge embrace each other, and it is precisely this, which seems to me, as judged from the border, to be the true relation of both.

By the appearance of the so-called "Existential Philosophy" in Germany, I was led to a new understanding of the relation between philosophy and theology. The lectures of Martin Heidegger given at Marburg, the impression of which on my Marburg students and upon some of my colleagues I experienced; then his writing, Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), also his interpretation of Kant, were of greater significance to followers and opponents of this philosophy than anything else since the appearance of Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Studies). I, myself, was prepared in a threefold way to accept this philosophy. First, by an exact acquaintance with Schelling’s final period, in which he attempted, in opposition to Hegel’s philosophy of being, to pave a way for a philosophy of existence. Secondly, by my—even if limited— knowledge of Kierkegaard, the real founder of the philosophy of existence; and thirdly, by my dependence upon the philosophy of life. These three elements, comprised and submerged into a sort of Augustinian-colored mysticism, produced that which fascinated people in Heidegger’s philosophy. Many of its chief terms are found in sermon literature of German Pietism. By its explanation of human existence it establishes a doctrine of man, though unintentionally, which is both the doctrine of human freedom and human finiteness; and which is so closely related with the Christian interpretation of human existence that one is forced to speak of a "theonomous philosophy," in spite of Heidegger’s emphatic atheism. To be sure, it is not a philosophy, which includes the theological answer and explains it philosophically. Such an undertaking would be idealism and the opposite of the philosophy of existence. However, the philosophy of existence asks the question in a new and radical manner, the answer to which is given in theology for faith. By means of these ideas, which I developed in my lectures at Yale University, the border between theology and philosophy has been drawn more acutely than in my earlier philosophy of religion, without abandoning the mutual relation of comprehension.

To these ideas, which are characterized as standing between philosophy and theology, corresponded my professional career: Doctor of Philosophy in Breslau, Licentiate of Theology and later Doctor of Theology (honoris causa) in Halle; Privat Dozent of Theology in Halle and Berlin; Professor of the Science of Religion in Dresden and at the same time Professor Honorarius of Theology in Leipzig; Professor Ordinarius of Philosophy in Frankfurt-on-the-Main; and visiting Professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York. A constant change of faculties and yet no change in the subject! As a theologian I tried to remain a philosopher, and conversely so. To have left the border and decided on the one or the other would have been less difficult. But inwardly it was impossible; and external fate met the need of the inward necessity with peculiar opportuneness.


The Church has always been my home in spite of all criticism, which I had to exercise at an early time upon Church doctrine and later upon Church practice. I have felt this never more forcefully than at that moment when the neo-pagan ideas made their entrance into the Church, and I feared that I should lose not only my political but also my religious home. This peril made me conscious of the fact that I belonged to the Church. The years of my youth laid the foundation of this feeling, not only by the Christian attitude of a Protestant parson’s home, but also by a rather uninterrupted religious custom of a small city east of the Elbe at the end of the nineteenth century. My love for the church building with its mysticism, my love for the liturgy, singing, and sermon, for the great Church festivals, which for days, even weeks, determined the life of the town, for the mysteries of Church doctrine and their effects upon my spiritual life as a child; the thrilling experience of holiness, of guilt, of forgiveness; the language of the Bible, particularly its pithy sayings—all this together was effective and created an indestructible foundation of ecclesiastical and sacramental feeling in me. It was decisive in leading me to the decision to become a theologian, and to remain one in spite of all tensions. The canonical examinations, my ordination, my activity as a parson for a number of years, my interest in sermons and liturgy, even long after my final transfer to the university, are consequences of that feeling of active relationship with the Church.

Yet even here, the destiny of the border revealed itself. With increasing criticism of the doctrine and institutions of the Church there arose a growing practical alienation. Decisive in this was my experience of the society of both the intelligentsia and the proletariat outside the Church. My contact with the intelligentsia outside the Church came about rather late, not until after the completion of my theological education, and was characterized by an apologetic attitude which resulted from my standing on the border. To be apologetic means to defend oneself in the face of an aggressor before a mutually acknowledged criterion. The Apologists of the Ancient Church vindicated themselves in the face of aggressive paganism before the instance of the LOGOS, acknowledged by both sides, which was identical with theoretical and practical reason. Because they put Christ on an equal basis with the LOGOs, and the divine commands with the logical law of nature, they could attempt to defend the Christian doctrine and attitude before the consciousness of their pagan opponents. Apologetics today does not mean the struggle for a new principle against existing intellectual and moral powers, but its task is to defend the Christian principle against newly arising powers. Decisive for the ancient and modern Apologetics is the question of the common criterion, of the court of judgment, where the dispute can be settled. As I was searching for this criterion, I discovered that the modern trends of thought which are rooted in the period of enlightenment are substantially Christian, in spite of their critical attitude toward ecclesiastical Christianity. They are not pagan as is often said of them. Paganism—especially in nationalistic garb—did not appear until after the World War in connection with the complete disintegration of Christian Humanism. In the face of Paganism there is no such thing as apologetics, but only the struggle for existence or non-existence, which prophetic Monotheism has always carried on against demonic Polytheism. In ancient times Apologetics was possible only because Polytheism had suffered a change by Humanism, and consequently Christianity and Antiquity had at their disposal a common criterion in Humanism. But while the ancient apologetics was opposed to a humanism, which was pagan in substance, the peculiar fact about modern apologetics is that it opposes a humanism, which is Christian in substance. (See my essay: "Lessing und die Idee eines christlichen Humanismus" (Lessing and the Idea of a Christian Humanism). With this view in mind, I tried in various private houses in Berlin to conduct lectures and discussions on Apologetics with invited guests. The experiences, which I gathered from these meetings, were assimilated in a memorandum that was forwarded to the governing body of the Church, and which later on led to the founding of "Die Apologetische Zentrale der Inneren Mission" (The Committee for Apologetics in Home Missions).

Not until after the War did the reality and nature of this Christian Humanism become totally evident to me. The contact with the Workers’ Movement, with the so-called de-Christianized masses, revealed clearly to me that here also, within the humanistic form, Christian substance was hidden, even though this Humanism bore the character of a materialistic popular philosophy, long since overcome in art and science. Here Apologetics was even much more necessary than to the intelligentsia, but also much more difficult, because the religious opposition was made more acute by class opposition. Apologetics, without any regard for this class opposition such as the Church was attempting, was condemned to complete failure from the very beginning. A successful activity on the part of the defenders of Christianity was possible only by their active participation in the class situation, i.e., Apologetics among the proletarian masses was and is possible only to "Religious Socialism." Not Home Missions, but Religious Socialism is the necessary form of Christian activity among the proletarian workingmen, and is in particular the necessary form of Christian Apologetics. This apologetic element in Religious Socialism has often been obscured by its political element, so that the Church has never understood the indirect importance of Religious Socialism for the Church. It was understood much better by the leaders of social democracy, who expressed to me their fear that, as the result of Religious Socialism, the, masses might come under the influence of the Church, and thus be alienated from the socialistic struggle. A further reason for the repudiation of Religious Socialism by the Church was the fact that Religious Socialism was obliged to discard, or to use only after sufficient preparation, the traditional symbols and concepts of ecclesiastical thought and action. Their use without any preparation resulted in an immediate, implicit repudiation on the part of the proletariat. The task was to show that in the peculiar forms of Christian Humanism, as represented by the Workers’ Movement, the same substance is implied as in the entirely different sacramental forms of the Church. A number of young theologians conceived the Church situation as I did, and transferred to non-ecclesiastical positions, especially social ones, with the expressed intention of influencing religiously those whom no Church official could reach in any way. Unfortunately, it was not possible to arrange this line of activity in such a way that many might have embraced it. It remained the business of a few. Since, at the same time, the Barthian theology deprived the problem, "Church and Humanistic society," and particularly "Church and Proletariat" of any significance among young theologians, the chasm was never bridged by the Church. The disintegrated humanistic society thus fell a victim to a large degree to the new pagan tendencies. The Church was compelled to assemble its defensive resources against these and restrict itself still more anti-humanistically. The proletarian masses sank back again to religious passivity. The intelligentsia now admire the resources which have revealed themselves in the Church contrary to their expectation. They stand aside, however. The gospel, for which the Church is fighting, does not and cannot touch them. In order to do that the Church would have to proclaim its gospel in a language which could be understood on the soil of the Humanism outside the Church. It would have to give the society, the intelligentsia as well as the masses, the feeling that this gospel is of absolute concern to them. But this feeling cannot be awakened by designedly anti-humanistic paradoxes such as those used in the theology of the Confessional Church. The reality, on the basis of which the negations are asserted, would have to be clarified. Yet, theologians such as Gogarten and Brunner, do not even attempt this. They lean upon Humanism by denying it, for their descriptions of the positive, which interests them, consist of nothing but negations of that which they are opposing.

Wherever the question of the language of the Christian gospel is taken seriously, for example in the Neuwerk-Kreis and in the magazine of the same name, edited by my old friend and fellow-combatant, Hermann Schafft, great difficulties arise. It is certain that the original religious terminology, as it is used in the Bible and in the liturgies of the Ancient Church, cannot be supplanted. There are religious original or archetypal words (Urworte) of mankind, as Martin Buber remarked to me some time ago. But these original or archetypal words have been robbed of their original power by our objective thinking, and the scientific conception of the world, and thus, have become subject to dissolution. In face of what the archetypal word "God" means, rational criticism is powerless. In face of an objectively existing God, atheism is right. A situation is hopeless and meaningless in which the speaker means the original word, and the listener hears the objective word. Thus, we may understand the proposal which is meant symbolically rather than literally, that the Church impose a thirty-year silence upon all of its archetypal words. But if it should do this, as it did in a few instances, it would be necessary to develop a new terminology. But all such attempts to translate the archaic language of liturgy and the Bible into a modern one have been deplorably futile. They represented disintegration and not a new creation. Even the use of the terminology of the mystics, especially in sermons (an attempt which I have made myself), is dangerous, since it conveys a different content with the different word; a content which hardly comprises all facts of the Christian gospel. Thus, the only solution is to use the religious "original words," and at the same time make clear their original meaning, by disavowing their secular and distorted usage, i.e., to stand between the two terminologies and recapture anew the original religious terminology from the border. The present peril of society has driven many to this border where the religious terminology can be heard in its original meaning. It would be regrettable if a blind and arrogant orthodoxy should monopolize these words and thus confuse many who have a feeling for religious reality, either driving them into paganism or thrusting them finally out from the Church.

The problem of the Church and society prompted me to distinguish in an essay on "Church and Humanistic Society" between a "manifest" and a "latent" Church. It was not the old Protestant distinction between the visible and the invisible Church which was to be discussed in that essay, but I was concerned with the differentiation within the visible Church. The existence of a Christian Humanism outside the Christian Church seems to me to make such a distinction necessary. It will not do to designate as non-churchly all those, who have become alienated from the organized Churches and traditional creeds. My life in these groups for half a generation showed me how much latent Church there is in them: the experience of the finite character of human existence; the quest for the eternal and the unconditioned, an absolute devotion to justice and love; a hope which is more than any Utopia; an appreciation of Christian values; and a most delicate apprehension of the ideological misuse of Christianity in the Church and State. It often seemed to me as if the latent Church, which I found in these groups, were a truer church than the organized Churches, because its members did not assume to be in possession of the truth. Of course, the last few years have shown that only the organized Church is able to carry on the struggle against the pagan attacks upon Christianity. The latent Church has neither the religious nor the organized weapons necessary in this struggle, though their use threatens to deepen the chasm between Church and society. A latent Church is a concept belonging to the situation of border, and it is the fate of countless Protestant men of our day to stand on this border.


If any one, being impressed by the mosaics of Ravenna or the ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel, or by the portraits of the older Rembrandt, should be asked whether his experience was religious or cultural, he would find the answer difficult. Perhaps it would be correct to say that his experience was cultural as to form, and religious as to substance. It is cultural because it is not attached to a specific ritual-activity; and religious, because it evokes questioning as to the Absolute or the limits of human existence. This is equally true of painting, of music and poetry, of philosophy and science. And that which is valid in the intuition and knowledge of the world is equally valid in the practical shaping of law and custom, in morality and education, in community and state. Wherever human existence in thought or action becomes a subject of doubts and questions, wherever unconditioned meaning becomes visible in works which only have conditioned meaning in themselves, there culture is religious. Through the experience of the substantially religious character of culture, I was led to the border of culture and religion, which I have never deserted. To its theoretical comprehension my philosophy of religion is primarily dedicated.

The relationship must be defined from both sides of the border. Religion cannot relinquish the absolute, and therefore universal, claim which is expressed in the idea of God. It cannot permit itself to be forced into a special realm of culture or to a place beside it. Under such an interpretation as is frequently given by Liberalism, religion becomes superfluous and disappears, for the system of culture is completed and closed in itself without religion. On the other hand, culture has a claim upon religion, which it cannot surrender without surrendering its autonomy, and thus also, itself. It must decide the forms, in which every content, including the "absolute" one, expresses itself. It cannot permit truth and justice to be destroyed in the name of the religious absolute; As the substance of culture is religion, so the form of religion is culture. There is only this difference, that in religion the substance which is the unconditioned source and abyss of meaning is designated, and the cultural forms serve as symbols for it; whereas in culture the form, which is the conditioned meaning is designated, and the substance, which is the unconditioned meaning becomes perceptible only indirectly throughout the autonomous form. The highest stage of culture is attained where human existence, in complete and autonomous form, is comprehended in its finitude and in its quest after the Infinite. And conversely, religion in its highest form must include the autonomous form within itself, the "Logos," as the Ancient Church termed it.

These ideas laid the foundation for the principles of both a philosophy of religion and philosophy of culture. They made a treatment of cultural movements from the point of view of religion possible. Therefore it is to be understood that my book, The Religious Situation, treats the intellectual and social movements of the recent past and the present in their whole breadth, while the more restricted religious sphere occupies only the lesser part. There is no doubt that this corresponds to the actual religious situation of the present; for the political and social elements have absorbed the religious energies to such a degree that religious and political ideals coincide for great masses of European men. The myth of the nation and the myth of social justice are widely replacing Christian doctrine and are resulting in consequences which can be interpreted only as religious, even though they appear in cultural forms. The program of a theological analysis of culture which I developed in my lecture on "Die Idee einer Theologie der Kultur" (The Idea of a Theology of Culture) has been confined in its limits by history itself.

I have drawn the theological deductions from these thoughts chiefly in my essay, "Protestantismus und Profanität" (Protestantism and the Profane). It concludes with the conviction that if Protestantism has any passion, it is for the profane. In this thought the Judaistic-Catholic separation of a sacred and profane sphere was to be negated in principle. In face of the unconditioned, or religiously speaking, of the Majesty of God, there is no preferred sphere, there are no persons, Scriptures, communities, institutions, or actions that are holy in themselves: nor are there any which are in themselves profane. The profane work can possess the quality of holiness, and what is holy can remain profane. The priest is a layman, and the layman can become a priest at any time. This was for me not only an expression of theological perception, but also an attitude I have maintained practically and personally. As clergyman and theologian it seemed to me impossible to be any one else than a layman and philosopher, who ventured to say something about the borders of human existence. I had no intention of concealing my theological qualities. On the contrary, I exposed them where they were naturally concealed; for example, in my activity as Professor of Philosophy. But I did not desire to have any particular theological conduct develop which would be strikingly different from that of the profane and would mark its bearer immediately "religious." It seemed to me that the unconditioned character of religion becomes much more manifest if it erupts out of the profane, disturbing and transforming it. Conversely it seemed to me that the dynamic character of the religious becomes veiled if some institutions and personalities are considered religious in themselves. To regard a group of clergymen as though they were men, whose faith belonged to the requirements of their profession, seemed to me to border on blasphemy.

From this conviction my attitude toward efforts of reforming the ritual of the Protestant Church was oriented. I attached myself to the so-called Berneuchener Movement, which, led by Wilhelm Stählin and Karl Ritter, urged more rigorous reforms than all other reforming groups, and did not limit itself to matters of ritual. It sought, above all, for a clearly thought-out theological basis and thereby afforded me the possibility of fruitful theological collaboration with it. Ritualistic acts, forms and attitudes do not contradict the "passion of the profane," if they are comprehended for what they are: symbolic forms, in which the religious substance that bears our entire existence is represented in a unique manner. The meaning of the ritualistic act as of the sacraments, is not to have holiness in itself, but to be a symbol of the unconditioned, which alone is holy, and which is and is not in all things at the same time. In two lectures, "Nature and Sacrament" and "Soul and Sacrament," I have tried to disclose the original meaning of sacramental thinking which was buried in the late medieval period and which is to be distinguished from the non-sacramental, intellectualistic thinking of Protestantism and Humanism. This is a particularly difficult but also necessary task upon Protestant soil. No Church is possible without a sacramental presentation of what is holy. My conviction of this necessity binds me to the followers of Berneuchen. The perhaps inevitable trend of the followers of Berneuchen from the border of the profane and sacramental on which we met to an exclusive concern for sacramental realization (often in archaic forms) made it impossible for me to go with them all the way. Here also, I believed it to be my duty to remain on the border.


It is comparatively easy to make the break into Socialism from Calvinism, especially in its more secularized forms. However, it is very difficult to do so by way of Lutheranism. I, myself, belong to Lutheranism by birth, education, religious experience, and theological reflection. I have never stood on the borders of Lutheranism and Calvinism, not even now, after having experienced the fatal consequences of the Lutheran social ethics and having had occasion to see the inestimable value of the Calvinistic doctrine of the idea of the Kingdom of God for the solution of the social problems. The substance of my religion is and remains Lutheran. It embodies the consciousness of the "corruption" of existence, the repudiation of every social Utopia, including, the metaphysics of progress, the knowledge of the irrational demonic character of life, an appreciation of the mythical elements of religion, and a repudiation of Puritan legality in individual and social life. Not only my theological, but also my philosophical thinking expresses the Lutheran substance. Lutheranism up to this time has found immediate philosophical expression only in Lutheran Mysticism and in its philosophical representative, Jakob Böhme, the "philosophus teutonicus." With him as mediator, Lutheran Mysticism had an influence on Schelling and German Idealism, and through Schelling, again on Irrationalism and the philosophy of life of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Insofar as the anti-socialistic movements of the present borrow a great part of their ideologies from those philosophical movements, Lutheranism works indirectly through philosophy, as well as directly, as a check against Socialism. The well-known developments in German theology after the War show most clearly that it is almost impossible for a nation, educated in Lutheranism, to proceed from religion to Socialism. Two theological tendencies, definitely Lutheran, opposed religious Socialism. First of all, the religious Nationalism, which calls itself Modern Lutheran Theology, as represented by Emmanuel Hirsch, a former fellow-student of mine, but now my opponent in theology and politics; and secondly, the falsely so-called "Dialectic Theology," established by Karl Barth which, in spite of the Calvinistic elements in Barth himself, has accepted a decisive Lutheran element in its conception of the idea of the Kingdom of God as purely transcendent. Both tendencies—and the "dialectic" indifference toward what is social, still more than the Modern Lutheran consecration of Nationalism—corresponded to German traditions in religious, social, and political life so thoroughly, that the opposition to them by Religious Socialism was hopeless. But the fact that Religious Socialism is hopeless on German soil is no refutation of its theological right and its political necessity. The impossibility of uniting religion and Socialism may be revealed in the near or distant future, as the tragic element in German History.

To stand on the borders of Lutheranism and Socialism demands, first of all, a critical discussion of the problem of Utopianism. The Lutheran doctrine of man, even in the naturalistic form of the philosophy of life, makes any kind of Utopia impossible. Sin, cupidity, will to power, unconscious urge, or whatever names there may be for it, is so involved with the existence of man and nature—(not with its essence or creative endowment)—that the realization of the Kingdom of Justice and Peace within this existence is impossible. The Kingdom of God can never become an immanent reality, and the absolute can never be realized in space and time. Every Utopianism must end with a metaphysical disappointment. However mutable human nature may be, it is impossible to stretch this mutability to the moral realm.

If by education and favorable circumstances the plane, on which moral decisions are made, be raised and original crudeness be suppressed to a large degree, morality as such, the freedom to do good or evil, would not be touched by that fact. Humanity does not become better, but Good as well as Evil are raised to a higher plane.

With these ideas, derived directly from the Lutheran interpretation of human existence, I have touched on a problem which has moved steadily into the foreground of Socialistic thinking, and which is also in particular a problem of religious Socialism—the doctrine of man. It seems to me that a false anthropology, particularly on German soil, has robbed Socialism of every bit of persuasive force. A politician, who does not know "What in man is" cannot be successful. On the other hand, I do not believe that the Lutheran conception, especially in its naturalistic transformation through the philosophy of life and Fascism, has the last word to say about man. Perhaps in this instance also, the prophetic message may point the way. Prophecy speaks of changing human nature along, with a transformation of all nature. Therein, even if at the same time it assumes a miracle, it is more realistic than concepts which leave nature unchanged and want only to transform man. That is Utopianism, but not the paradox of prophetic expectation.

But long before the anthropological implications of the problem of Utopianism appeared in the foreground, this problem itself had become evident as the central problem of religious Socialism. When shortly after the Revolution at our first meetings, the theme of which was the problem "Religion and Socialism," it was disclosed that the question regarding the relationship of religion to a Social Utopianism was to be the basis for everything else. At that time I first used the New Testament concept of Kairos, the fulfillment of time, which as a border-concept between Lutheranism and Socialism has become characteristic of German Religious Socialism. The term is meant to express the fact that the struggle for a new social order cannot lead to a fulfillment such as is meant. by the Kingdom of God, but that at a special time special tasks are demanded, and one special aspect of the Kingdom of God appears as a demand and expectation. The Kingdom of God will always remain as transcendent; but it appears as a judgment to a given form of society and as a norm to a coming one. Thus, the decision for Socialism during a definite period may be the decision for the Kingdom of God, even though the Socialist ideal remains infinitely distant from the Kingdom of God. (In the two volumes published by me under the title Kairos, and provided with the introductory essays, the idea of Kairos has been developed further in its philosophical and theological assumptions and implications.)

An important concept belonging to the Kairos doctrine is that of the demonic, which I developed in a particular work— "The Demonic: A contribution to the Interpretation of History,"(See below, pp. 179 ff.) and which, in the interpretation there given, has passed over into discussion both theological and philosophical. This concept would not have been possible without the previously mentioned Lutheran mysticism and philosophical irrationalism. It describes a power in personal and social life that is creative and destructive at the same time. Those possessed of demons in the New Testament know more about Jesus than those who are normal, but they know it as a condemnation of themselves in their condition of cleft-consciousness. The Ancient Church called the Roman Imperial Government demonic, because it made itself equal to God, and yet prayed for the Emperor and gave thanks for civic peace, which he assured. In a similar way religious Socialism attempted to show that Capitalism and Nationalism were demonic powers, insofar as they were at the same time sustaining and destructive, attributing divinity to their highest values. The development of European Nationalism and its religious interpretation of itself has fully confirmed this diagnosis of mine.

It is a matter of course that the thoughts which I had previously developed regarding the relation of religion and culture, of sacred and profane, of heteronomy and autonomy, should have passed over into the concepts of religious Socialism, so that they have increasingly become the crystallization of all my thinking. Above all they gave theoretical foundation and practical warmth to my attempt at a theonomous philosophy of history. An analysis of the character of "historical time" as distinguished from physical and biological time led me to a concept of history, in which the movement toward something, toward the new, which is claimed as well as expected, is constitutive. The content of demand and expectation, the principle that gives history meaning and goal, I called the "Center of History," which from the Christian viewpoint is one with the appearance of Christ. The powers which struggle with one another in history may be termed according to the different points of view, as either the demonic, the divine, or the human; or as the sacramental, the prophetic, and the profane; or as heteronomy, theonomy, and autonomy. In so doing, the given middle term is the synthesis of the other, too, that one toward which history is moving in ever new beginnings successfully or disastrously; never perfected, but always driven by the transcendent power of perfection. Socialism is to be understood as one such beginning toward a new theonomy. It is more than a new economic system. It is a total system of existence. It is the form of theonomy demanded and expected in the present Kairos.


I nurtured German Idealism, and I do not believe that I can ever unlearn what I learned there. Above all I am indebted to Kantian criticism, which showed me that the question of the possibility of scientific knowledge cannot be answered by pointing to the realm of things. The point of procedure of every analysis of experience and every concept of a system of reality must be the point, where subject and object are at one and the same place. From there, I came to understand the idealistic principle of identity—not in the sense of a metaphysical speculation, but in the sense of an analysis of the final elements implied in every knowledge. Up to now no criticism of idealism has convinced me of the inadmissibility of this procedure. This analysis has guarded my thought from every kind of metaphysical and naturalistic positivism. Thus I have remained an idealist as far as the method of procedure is concerned in a theory of knowledge. I am an idealist if idealism means the assertion of the identity of thinking and being as the principle of truth. Furthermore, it seems to me that the element of freedom is expressed in the idealistic conception of the world in a manner which corresponds best to the inner and outer experience. The fact of questioning a human possibility, the perception of absolute demands (categorical imperative) in thinking and acting, the observation of meaningful forms in nature, society, and art (compare the modern Gestalt Theory)—all that, according to my conviction, urges one to create a philosophy of freedom. Finally, it cannot be denied that a correspondence exists between the human spirit and reality, which is probably best expressed in the concept of "Meaning," and which led Hegel to talk of the unity of the objective with the subjective spirit in an absolute spirit. Whenever idealism seeks to elaborate the categories which give meaning in the different realms, it thereby fulfills the task, fulfillment of which alone justifies the existence of a philosophy.

A quite different issue led me to the border of idealism. It is the claim of the idealists that their system of meaningful categories portrays reality as a whole, instead of its being conceived as an expression of a definite and limited relation to reality. Only Schelling in his second period was conscious of the questionableness of the systems of the philosophy of essence. He recognized that reality is not only the appearance of essence, but also the contradiction of it and that, above all human existence is the expression of contradiction to its essence; furthermore, that our thinking is a part of our existence and shares the fate that human existence contradicts its true nature. Schelling did not develop this seminal idea. Exactly like Hegel, he put himself and his philosophy at the end of an historical process, by which the contradictions of existence are overcome and an absolute standpoint is attained. The idealism in Schelling triumphed over his initial effort toward existential thinking. Kierkegaard was the first to break through the closed system of the idealistic philosophy of essence. His new and radical interpretation of embarrassment of life and of despair of existence made a philosophy possible which could really be called "existential." His importance for the German post-war theology and philosophy can hardly be overestimated. I myself, even, during my last days as a student, could not resist the impression which his aggressive dialectics made upon me.

At the same time opposition to the Idealistic Philosophy of Being became lively in another direction: on the part of Hegel’s radical followers, who came out against their teacher, and "turned idealism upside down," proclaiming theoretical and practical materialism in idealistic categories. Marx, who came from this group, went even a step further: he denied along with the idealistic categories, even their materialistic reversal (compare his thesis against Feuerbach), and demanded an attitude which he placed in expressive contrast to the philosophical one, because it "does not want to explain, but change the world." According to Marx, philosophy as such (which he identified with philosophy of essence) seeks to obscure, the contradictions of existence, to disregard that which is of importance to the real human being, namely the social contradictions which determine his existence in the world. These contradictions, concretely expressed, the conflict of the social classes, show that idealism is an ideology, namely a system of concepts, whose function it is to cover up the contrast of reality. (Analogously, Kierkegaard saw the function of the Philosophy of Essence as that of concealing the contradictions in the existence of the individual.)

I owe to Marx, first of all, the insight into the ideological character, not only of idealism but of all systems of thought, religious as well as profane, which as the servants of power hinder, even though unconsciously, the more righteous form of social reality. (Luther’s warning against the self-made God means in religious parlance exactly what ideology means in philosophical language.)

With the repudiation of the closed system of the doctrine of essence, a new conception of truth arises: truth is bound to the situation of the knower, to the individual situation in Kierkegaard and to the social situation in Marx. Only so much knowledge of essence is possible as the degree to which the contradictions of existence are recognized and overcome. In the situation of despair, in which according to Kierkegaard every human being exists, and in the situation of the class struggle, in which according to Marx. historical humanity has lived up to now, every system of harmony is untrue. That leads both Kierkegaard and Marx to the point of connecting truth to a particular psychological or social situation. To Kierkegaard truth is just that subjectivity which does not disregard its despair, its exclusion from the objective world of essence, but which holds on to it passionately; whereas to Marx, truth is found in the class-interest of that class, which becomes conscious of itself as destined to overcome the class struggle, the necessari1y non-ideological class. Thus arises the peculiar idea, though intelligible from the Christian standpoint, that the greatest possibility of obtaining an un-ideological truth is given at the point of the greatest meaningless, of despair, of the broadest self-alienation of human essence. In my pamphlet, "Protestantismus und Proletarische Situation" (Protestantism and the Proletarian Situation), I have connected this thought with the Protestant principle and the doctrine concerning the human border-situation. Of course, this is possible only when the proletariat is used as a typical concept. The actual proletariat corresponds to the typical, one at times even less than non-proletarian groups, than intellectuals, for example, who have broken through their class-situation; and from this border-situation are capable of giving the proletariat the consciousness of itself. The confusion of the typical with the real proletariat has been one of the most important causes for the defeat of German Social Democracy.

The conception of Economic Materialism is bound up with the concept of "Marxism" for general thought. But thus the ambiguity of the word Materialism is intentionally or unintentionally overlooked. If materialism were necessarily metaphysical materialism, I should never have been found on the border of Marxism; likewise, Marx himself would be no Marxist in his struggle with materialism as well as idealism. But Economic Materialism is not a metaphysics, but a method of historical interpretation. Economic Materialism does not mean that the "economic" which is itself a complex reality, embracing all sides of human existence, could be the sole cause of all phases of human life. That would be meaningless. Economic Materialism shows rather the fundamental significance of economic structures and motives for the social and intellectual forms and changes of a period. It denies that there is a history of thought and religion which is independent of economic structure; and, thereby, confirms the theological insight, neglected by idealism, that man lives on earth and not in heaven; philosophically expressed, in existence and not in essence.

To a large extent, Marxism can be conceived of as a method of unveiling and can be compared in this with psychoanalysis. Unveiling is painful for those concerned, nay, even under certain circumstances, destructive. Ancient Greek tragedy, culminating in the King Œdipus myth, realizes that. Man defends himself against the unveiling of his actual existence as long as he can; for when he sees himself without the ideologies that surround his existence, on which, as with Œdipus, his self-consciousness rests, he collapses. The passionate denial of Marxism and psychoanalysis, which I have frequently encountered, is "the attempt of social groups and individual personalities to escape the unveiling which under certain circumstances would mean annihilation for them. But without such unveiling the ultimate meaning of the Christian gospel cannot be perceived. Therefore, the theologian most particularly should use these means in order to unveil human existence instead of upholding a harmonizing idealism. He can make use of them from the position at the border; he can—as I sought myself to do—criticize the partially obsolete terminology of psychoanalysis; he can reject the Utopian and dogmatic elements of Marxism; he can emphasize the scientific invalidity of numerous single theories of psychoanalysis and Marxism. He can and must resist metaphysical and ethical materialism, no matter whether it is or is not legitimately derived from Freud and Marx. But he must not deprive himself of the power which is contained in both, and which makes for an unveiling of human existence and a destruction of ideology.

But in Marxism there is not only an unveiling, but also demand and expectation in ideas of powerful historical impetus. There is prophetic passion in it, whereas idealism, insofar as it is influenced by the principle of identity, has mystical and sacramental roots. In the middle section of my book, Die sozialistische Entscheidung (Socialistic Decision), I have tried to distinguish the prophetic element of Marxism from its rational-scientific terminology, and thus clarify its far-reaching religious and historical effects. At the same time I have attempted to attain a new comprehension of the socialistic principle by linking it to the attitude of the Judaic-Christian prophecy: idealistically, as many Marxists will say; materialistically, as many Idealists will say, but really remaining on the border of the two.

Marxism has become a slogan, with which to defame political opponents. My position on the border of Marxism adds nothing new politically to what I have already said about my relation to religious Socialism. It does not commit me to any party. But were I to say that, in spite of belonging to Social Democracy, I had stood between the parties, the "between" would have to be interpreted differently than it has been in many instances cited within these pages. It means that in my heart I have never, and do not belong to any party, because the most important point in the political realm seems to me to be one which is never expressed in political parties, except in distorted form. My longing has been and is a "fellowship" which is bound to no party, although it stands nearer to one than the other, and which shall be a vanguard for a more righteous social order in the spirit of prophecy and in accord with the demand of the Kairos.


To think that I am writing this portrayal of myself in an alien country is a fate which is also like every real fate, freedom. The border of home and alien land is not merely the external boundary, drawn by nature or history, but is likewise the border of two inner forces, two possibilities of human existence. The classical word for it is the command to Abraham: "Go out from thy country—into a land that I shall show thee." Abraham must leave his native soil, the community of his family and cult, people and state, for the sake of a promise which he does not comprehend. The God. who demands obedience from him is a God of an alien land, not attached to the native soil as are heathen gods, but a God of history, who means to bless all the races of the earth. This God, the God of the prophets and of Jesus, utterly destroys every religious nationalism: that of the Jews, which he combats constantly, and that of the pagans, which is repudiated in the command to Abraham. For the Christian of every faith there seems to me at this point no doubt any more: he is to leave his own country over and over again and to go into a land that is shown to him, and to trust a promise which is for him purely transcendent. The real meaning of "home" varies according to the situation of the individual. It may be home in the sense of soil and national community, and the demand may be "external emigration"; this is infrequent. More frequently, leaving of home signifies the demand to part from ruling powers, social and political tendencies, and to render them active or passive resistance, in other words, "inner emigration"—the attitude of the Christian communities in the Roman Empire. The way into an alien land may also signify something purely inward: parting from one’s habitual way of believing and thinking; stepping over the border of all, that is a matter of course; radical questioning and advancing to the new and unknown, into the "land of our children" in opposition to all "father and motherlands" (Nietzsche). In that case the alien land is not the geographically different one, but the temporally future one, the "beyond the present." Finally, in speaking of the alien, we can point to the feeling, that even the nearest and most familiar has an element of strangeness for us. I mean that metaphysical experience of strangeness in our world, which the philosophy of existence takes as an outstanding expression of human finiteness. In all these respects, I always stood between home and alien land. It was not as if I had one-sidedly made the decision for what was alien. That is true neither of the outer nor of the inner emigration, the latter having begun long before the outer one.

The attachment to my country in the sense of landscape, language, tradition, and common experience of historical fate, has always been for me so natural, that I could never comprehend why anybody should make it the subject of intentional thought and action. The overemphasis which cultural nationalism puts on national education and intellectual production seemed to me to be the expression of a feeling of insecurity in the national attitude. I am convinced that such an overemphasis occurs in people who come from the border—in an internal or external sense—and who, therefore, felt the obligation to confirm their true national character to themselves and others, and who were always afraid to return to the border. I have always felt myself so German by nature that I could not noisily emphasize this idea of being a German. A condition of birth and destiny cannot be questioned at all. The problem is, What shall we do with this material, with this given substance and what shall be the point of view, from which social activity, political form, intellectual and moral education, cultural and social life, shall be considered? The answer to these questions cannot be the substance and the given material, for the substance is a presupposition of the asking. If the presupposition is used as the answer, that vicious circle appears which is praised today as national, but which testifies to a lack of confidence in the power of the national substance and leads to a terrible emptying of the national life. (In my lectures at Frankfurt, concerning ‘Social Education," I have expressed this opposition to nationalistic tendencies.)

But the problem of Nationalism today is above all an economic-political one. In regard to it, I have held different attitudes. In the article: "The Totalitarian State and the Claim of the Churches," I have expressed myself in regard to the causes of the Militant Nationalism of Europe and its relation to the late-capitalistic disintegration. The essay, "Zur Philosophie der Macht" (On the Philosophy of Power) deals with the meaning and the limits of power from the general problem of Being, that is, ontologically. In Die Sozialistischen Entscheidung (Socialistic Decision) I attempt to show the anthropological roots and political consequences of the national idea. The experience of the four years in the World War "was decisive for my attitude. In this experience, the demonic and destructive character of the national will to power became manifest particularly for one who went into war enthusiastically and with the firm belief in the justice of the national attitude. Consequently, I can see the European Nationalism as only a means for the tragic self-destruction of Europe, even though, or perhaps because I understand its inevitability. But this insight never made me a pacifist in the exact meaning of this term. A specific type of pacifism is suspect to me, because of the effeminate character of its representatives. Another type, of the kind found in victorious and satisfied nations, had an ideological and pharisaic taint for me. Pacifism for such nations is too useful to be honest. In my opinion legal pacifism results in consequences opposite to those intended. Peace in human existence within the individual nation as well as in international relations depends on a power able to restrain the trespassers of peace. This is not said in justification of the national will to power, but in recognition of the necessity of overlapping unities, behind which there must be a power able to prevent the self-destruction of mankind. Mankind today is more than an ephemeral idea. Mankind has become a reality with respect to economics and politics, for the fate of every section is dependent on the fate of all sections of mankind. This increasing realization of united mankind represents and anticipates, so to speak, the truth which is implied in the belief in a Kingdom of God, to which all nations and races belong. Consequently, the denial of the unity of mankind includes the denial of the Christian doctrine, namely that the Kingdom of God is at hand. I feel grateful that in the life of this new continent, on which I am allowed to live through the hospitality of this country, an ideal is suggested which is similar to the picture of the unity of mankind in contrast to the self-destruction of Europe. A nation which unites the representatives of all nations and races can become a symbol for the highest possibility of history—Mankind. That is true, even though this picture reveals deep shadows and a large gap between ideal and reality. Mankind, as such, is a symbol for that which lies beyond history, the Kingdom of God, in which the border between home and alien land has ceased to be a border.


In the foregoing pages many possibilities of human existence, both natural and intellectual, have been discussed. Several things were not mentioned, although they are a part of me, and many more things could not be dealt with because they do not belong to me. What has been discussed has been considered from the aspect of being united with other possibilities, by way of contrast and correlation. It is the dialectical character of existence, that each of its possibilities drives on its own accord to its border line and to the limiting power beyond the boundary. To stand on many border lines means to experience in many forms the unrest, insecurity, and inner limitation of existence, and to know the inability of attaining serenity, security, and perfection. That is true of life as well as of thought, and it may explain something of the fragmentary and groping character of the ideas I have recorded here. The destiny of the boundary, which has cast me upon the soil of a new continent, has again frustrated my desire to give my philosophy a definitive form. To complete it within the limits of my resources is a hope, the fulfillment of which is very uncertain at an age close to fifty years. But whether fulfilled or not, there is a boundary of human activity which is no longer the dividing line between two possibilities, but a limitation through that which is beyond any human possibility—the Good and the True. In its presence, even the very center of our being is only a boundary, and our utmost perfection only a fragment.

Viewed 118732 times.