Thursday, January 24, 2013

Barth's Nietzschean View of History

I am half way done with Richard E. Burnett's book Karl Barth's Theological Exegesis.  The main reason I am reading this book is because he spends a fair amount of time describing what Barth's reading style (his hermeneutics) is like.  He does this by seeing Barth's Romans (I and II) as breaking from the hermeneutical tradition of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey and also the higher criticism of his contemporaries.

The Eureka moment I had is when Burnett pointed out that Barth quotes (in his unpublished preface to Romans) Nietzsche's book The Use and Abuse of History.   Here is the quote (see page 114):

"You may only interpret the past out of the highest power of the present: only in the strongest efforts of your noblest qualities will you divinize what in the past is great, worth knowing and preserving.  Like through like!    Or else you will pull the past down to yourself!  It is the mature and preeminent man who writes history.  He that has not passed through some greater and nobler experience than his contemporaries will be incapable of interpreting the greatness and nobility of the past. The voices of the past speak in oracles; and only the master of the present and the architect of the future can hope to decipher their meaning."

This helps one of my recent points (which is probably not too original) that Barth follows in the genealogy with Nietzsche's and Burckhardt's school of history.  For these three, they held a skeptical view of the progressive reading of history at the end of the nineteenth century, and they wanted a separation between science (its appeal to objective, detachment) and the other disciplines in the humanities.  Following this quote, Barth appeals to Nietzsche in the way the dynamic between the past and present is important for practicing history; thus, their is no detachment with regard to the past.

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