Friday, April 29, 2011

Barth's and Zizek's little Hegeling: Dialectic with no Synthesis

Hegel is making a little comeback in some circles. He is an extraordinary thinker. However, most consider him the guy who collapses all differences into an all-encompassing identity. The post-structuralist philosophers attacked this Hegelian form where the dialectic started with a thesis then dealt with its antithesis only to become resolved by a synthesis. It is such a neat, tidy system.

Theologians have resisted the way Hegel seemed to move the act-being of God into a progressive movement within human consciousness (that erases transcendence). Barth had a professed love/hate relationship with Hegel. First, he admitted loving to do a little Hegeling. However, second, Barth ridicules Hegel for his bombastic attempt to encompass all thought to human reason. Most of Barth's commentators notice this love/hate relationship as well. Since Barth seemed to reject the modern tradition (which led into liberal theology) then he mostly has no place for Hegel.

Nevertheless, what if Slavoj Zizek is right that Hegel has no neat and tidy synthesis? Zizek writes that "far from being a story of its progressive overcoming, dialectics is for Hegel a systematic notation of the failure of all such attempts-- 'absolute knowledge' denotes a subjective position which finally accepts 'contradiction' as an internal condition of every identity. In other words, Hegelian 'reconciliation' is not a 'panlogicist' sublation of all reality in the Concept but a final consent to the fact that the Concept is 'not-all'." Here Zizek rejects the textbook presentation of Hegel that past thinkers like Kojeve presented.

What I claim is that as Zizek's Hegel leads to human knowledge that embraces negativity, does not Barth's veiled/unveiled dialectic lead to the same conclusion? Many of the commentators, in light of McCormack's work, note that Barth never did abandon his dialectic. Barth pronounces a dialectic Yes/No to all human thought. There is grace and judgment that must stay in tension. Thus, Barth rejects both a synthesis and a diastasis when it comes to philosophical/theological thought.

It is clear that Barth is not a deconstructionist in that there is still a veiled content to his theology supplied by the revelation of Christ, the Word of God. But even this supplied, external revelation is presented as a veiled/unveiled dialectic. So one can move forward in doing theology and philosophy but it will always have a pinch of negativity to it; I would say that there is only so much of the infinite that we the finite can take. Even when Barth moves ahead with his wonderful doctrine of election, which has grace at its center, he still must pronounce a No to the way we have handled this calling or tried to cover over this grace with structures of the No-God.

So, when commentators write that Barth's dialectic is not Hegelian because it does not have a synthesis, one might reply that Zizek's Hegel might be closer to Barth than he would have liked. In short, when Barth wrote that Hegel is the Protestant Thomas Aquinas and that the future may belong to him, he may have been more right than he knew.

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