NOW that the end of this series of lectures is in sight, it is expedient for me to pick up the threads once more from the beginning. In fixing upon the central theme, my intention was to operate within the field defined by the Trust Disposition and Settlement of the Gifford Lectures as “natural theology”. The critical theology, which is what I have in mind in these lectures, I see not just as a possible interpretation of natural theology, but as even a worthy descendent of it, qualified and competent to be its legitimate heir and successor. If the idea underlying the tradition of natural theology is not to become a dead letter, then it must be translated and extended in categories adapted to the questions of our time.
And in this connection the thing itself—what it is all really about—is of more importance than the terminology. If the meaning of the term “natural theology” is open to varying interpretation, and indeed in the course of tradition has signified many different things, the term “critical theology” would seem to be equally vulnerable; it threatens to fall, as it were, between two stools.
On the one hand, an attempt to continue the tradition of natural theology, according to whatever interpretation, runs the risk of falling back behind the radical critique of Karl Barth, who rejected natural theology as an inherently contradictory aim to propose, a contradiction in terms. In the Introduction to his Gifford Lectures he rightly rendered his account of this. Indeed, a “critical theology” is only justifiable if and when it has fully assimilated a critique based on a “dialectical theology”.
On the other hand, there seems to be an unbridgeable gulf between a critical theology and the “critique of heaven and earth” as projected by Karl Marx. To the extent that such a theology comes within the scope of Marx's thinking, it would appear to fall under the withering judgment pronounced in Die Heilige Familie upon the crypto-theological kritischen Kritik, the “critical critique”, of Bruno Bauer and his associates. Can a critical theology contain anything but a theological, i.e., a speculative, critique, a specimen of the reprehensible deutsche Ideologie?
All things considered, the scheme presented by this series of lectures seems doomed from the start to miscarry and to be quite unacceptable to the judgment of Lord Gifford, Karl Barth and Karl Marx in turn, or indeed of all three together. The justification for the choice of my central theme can only lie therefore in my settled conviction that theology today has an imperative need for such an enterprise. The critical theology I have in mind is a risky venture, but a necessary one; for what is at stake is nothing more or less than the future of theology itself. Furthermore, it is no blind venture, because there is most certainly a compass; and when it comes to mapping out a course a number of obstacles and unnavigable zones may in any case be noted. It will be enough to recall some of the aspects already considered.
In the lecture in which a start was made with the “Critique of Heaven” I characterized the genesis of Marx's critique as the transformation of theology. At the same time I instanced Karl Barth's total disregard of Marx in his work on the Protestant theology of the nineteenth century as a symptom of the dilemma with which Marx confronted the theological tradition. The dilemma was accentuated in the first lecture on the “Critique of Earth”; and the conclusion was that Marx's Critique of Political Economy, in particular, cannot be adequately comprehended and accommodated within the traditional framework of theology. In other words, because Marx's Critique, historically and in principle, can only be understood as a transformation of theology, it therefore confronts theology with the inescapable need for a transformation. This cycle of lectures can and is intended to do no more than indicate the direction in which such a theological transformation must come about. When theology steers in the direction of Marx's “critique of heaven and earth”, that in itself will mark the beginning of the transformation which must precede any adequate understanding of Marx's critical method. These lectures are meant to help shape a course; they are prolegomena to the navigation that is still to come.
From this kind of transformation of theology I would expect a new prospect to emerge for the tradition of a “natural theology”; for there can be no future for it along any familiar path. In my opening lecture on the “critique of earth” I have already pointed to the context to which “natural theology” continued to be assimilated, along with ethics, jurisprudence and the social and political sciences, including economics, right up to the first half of the nineteenth century. I also pointed out, in Marx's historical account of British materialism, certain obvious traces of a vision of an all-round materialism, which slowly but surely disappeared, when from the seventeenth century onwards the world came to be envisaged more and more on a mechanical and mathematical basis. Again, in Marx's account of the history of political economy in Britain we find the same sort of vision of a lost totality, a lost wholeness. In the postscript to the second edition of the first Book of Das Kapital Marx pays his respects to the “classical political economy” of which he sees David Ricardo as being the last great representative. He takes 1830 to be the year in which that economy finally expired. “In France and England the bourgeoisie had seized political power. From then on the class struggle, in practice and in theory, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the knell of scientific bourgeois economy. From then on the issue was no longer whether this or that theorem was true; the crucial question now was whether a given theorem was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not.” Marx's premiss is that “political economy can remain a science only so long as the class struggle is latent or manifests itself only in isolated and sporadic phenomena.”
Without whittling down this assertion we may wonder whether it is wholly satisfactory from Marx's own standpoint. I would simply recall the broad context of “Moral Philosophy” within which Adam Smith developed his specialized economic studies; the Wealth of Nations still has a relation to the classical system of natural law that was rooted deep in European history. When Marx discourses with Adam Smith, he is in a sense in dialogue with the classical tradition which Adam Smith had kept alive. Even from this point of view, the Critique of Right and the Critique of Political Economy run in the same groove. Not without reason does Hegel's Grundlinien der Philosophic des Rechts bear the sub-title Naturrecht und Staatswissen-schaft. Through Hegel as its last great representative, Marx is in dialogue with classical natural law. Moreover, the term Staatswissenschaft (political science) also embraces political economy; and the Staatsbkönomie of Adam Smith and Ricardo is treated explicitly by Hegel, in the introductory section (section 189) to the “System of needs” in his Philosophy of Right, as the typical science of the “Understanding”, which by analysis extracts the simple rudiments from an infinite number of facts. Hegel's contemporary, Ricardo, is discussed by Marx as the last great representative of the classical political economy. Ricardo “in the end, consciously makes the antagonism of class interests, of wages and profits, of profits and rent, the starting-point of his investigations, naively taking this antagonism for a social law of Nature. But by this start the science of bourgeois economy had reached the limits beyond which it could not pass.”
Marx's attitude to Ricardo's “naivety” would have been less indulgent, had it not been integral to the “classical” nature of Ricardo's notion of the “social law of nature” (gesellschaftlichse Naturgesetz). He can still recognize in Ricardo's idea of the matter the definition, traceable right back to scholasticism, which, equates natural law (lex naturalis) (justum naturale) both with reasonable truth (ratio recta), and, with what is socially useful or necessary (expedient ẹt necessarium). After Ricardo, that unity falls apart: not truth (ratio recta) but only usefulness, utility, that matters to the capitalist (expediens et necessarium. Marx is really saying in so many words that with the political asendancy of the bourgeoisie, i.e. with the complete breakthrough of “civil society” (bürgerliche Gesellschaft), the classical system of natural law and with it the classical political economy was dead and buried. The “impassable limits” unüberschreitbare) Schranke) of the science of bourgeois economy are none other than those of the natural-law system. Hegel confronts Marx with the same problem as Ricardo: there is absolutely no way in which the advent of bourgeois (civil) society can be made to square with the classical rules of the natural-law system. The year 1830 is the historical landmark (Hegel's death occurred in the next year; Ricardo had died in 1823). Like Athens' own Themistocles, Marx sees himself faced with the task of grounding society upon a new basis, a “new element”. That is possible only by means of a critique: radical analysis of the primary principles on which the new period of world history must depend. A return to the classical system of natural law is out of the question; and yet what Marx sees in his mind's eye is a totality of thought which is as significant for the new period as the classical system of natural law had been throughout a bygone period of Europe's history.
In this perspective it really does make sense to think in terms of a continuation or “implementation” of natural theology. Just as the tradition of “natural theology” is inseparably bound up with that of “natural law”, in which political economy also had a place, so the collapse of that tradition entails at the same time the collapse of “natural theology”—just as on the other side it sounded the knell of the classical political economy. To that extent Lord Gifford was simply too late when in 1887 he founded a Lectureship on natural theology. Indeed, from a strictly theological viewpoint, Karl Barth's radical opposition to natural theology is the right answer to the questions posed by the modern period of history. And yet, if Barth had chosen not the Scottish Confession but Scottish political economy as the subject of his Gifford Lectures, he would have had a much broader view of the total context of “mental” and “social” sciences within which natural theology was included. >From within a perspective of this kind Barth might well have made an important contribution to a radical transformation of natural theology. But as I pointed out in my first lecture, he stops short at that very point. In Barth's history of Protestant theology in the nineteenth century Karl Marx is the great absentee. Marx's “critique of heaven and earth” is the eye of the needle through which the theological tradition will have to squeeze if it is to enter the modern period. On the horizon of Marx's critical analysis the prospect looms of a transformed theology able to take a specific but authentic and real position within the total spectrum of the sciences.
The direction in which such a theological transformation will lead us can be inferred from the difference between Karl Barth and Karl Marx where the critique of religion is concerned. In Barth's dogmatics religion is subject to the radical critique of “God's revelation as the superseding (Aufhebung) of religion”. Religion is unbelief. Religion is defined by Barth as “the attempt by man to justify and sanctify himself vis-à-vis an image of God projected by his own reason and his own authority” (Church Dogmatics, 1/2, section 17). That definition is a radical one in so far as this aspiration on man's part could embrace every dimension of his existence. But when we examine the way in which Barth actually handles the definition, it turns out that his whole treatment of it is pursued from the very outset at the level of “religion” in the stereotyped sense which the term has acquired in modern usage. His account of the field of religion takes its material from the arsenal furnished by the history and phenomenology of religion; and it is enough to have read Chantepie de la Saussaye's Lehrbuch der Religions-geschichte to be able to follow Barth's exposition. Certainly, Barth is too skilled a dialectician to ignore the critical limits of positive religion—mysticism and atheism—but even there he sees these negative phenomena exclusively in the plane of “religion” in the currently accepted sense of the word. Ultimately, his concern with the problem of religion turns out to be engrossed by the dogmatic question of how the “Christian religion” can be liberated from the fatal toils in which the modern concept of “religion” has ensnared it. His radical critique runs parallel to Marx's radical critique of the philosophers to this extent: that Barth also exposes original sin as being a confusion of subject and predicate. “Christianity” or “the Christian religion” is a predicate of a subject which may have other predicates, a species within a genus to which other species also belong. The saving answer to the problem of religion in general and of the “Christian religion” in particular lies therefore in a return to the definition of religio Christiana as identical with God's revelation in Christ. Subject and predicate are returned to their original position; revelational religion is indeed tied to God's revelation, but God's revelation is not tied to revelational religion.
Measured against nineteenth-century Protestant theology Barth's critique of religion is certainly radical; it might even be regarded as the very spearhead of his whole critique of that theology. The radical character of Barth's critique pales, however, in the light of Marx's critique of religion. Hence the significance of the fact that Marx is deliberately left out of Barth's account of the Protestant theology of the nineteenth century. In that way Barth ensured that there would be no question of discovering and striking at the Achilles' heel of his own theology; for, measured by the yardstick of Marx's critique, Barth's concept of religion remains trapped within the magical ellipse of which Hegel and Feuerbach constitute the focal points.
The critique which Marx directs at Hegel's speculative dialectics in general, and at his speculative philosophy of right in particular, can also be applied to Barth's critique of religion. Let God's revelation be posited as the “superseding” (Aufhebung) of religion; but in that case religion is being endorsed just as much on a dialectical-theological basis as it is endorsed in Hegel's philosophy of religion on a dialectical-philosophical one. This parallel remains unaffected by Barth's critique of Hegel's philosophy, which substantially coincides with his critique of religion. For if on Barth's criterion religion is given a higher sanction in Hegel's philosophical “supersession”, then Barth's theological “supersession” of religion falls in its turn under Marx's stricture that religion is here acquiring a superior, that is, a theological, sanction; a theological dialectic which closer inspection shows to be akin to philosophical dialectic—for the roots are to be found in speculation.
On the other hand, Barth seems not to pass by Feuerbach's position. Barth apparently presents a lethal critique of Feuerbach by exposing the atheistic critique of religion as itself having been engendered in the womb of religion. In the engagement with Feuerbach, this method works in so far as it hoists the opposing party with his own petard; whereas Feuerbach unmasks theology as concealed anthropology, conversely the atheistic mask of Feuerbach's critique of theology is torn away by Barth, and its true visage, its religious visage, brought to light. But with all this Barth is still in the same arena as Feuerbach and with him falls under the judgment of the Deutsche Ideologie: they remain inside the “sphere of influence” of speculative theology and abstract anthropology.
Marx's “critique of heaven and earth” is conducted at three different levels. The first is the level of “religion” in the conventional sense of modern usage. The second level is that of law and politics. The third is the level of political economy. On each of these three levels Marx presents a radical critique of religion. It is radical inasmuch as it defines religion as “a roundabout way of acknowledging man, through an intermediary”. The nature of religion, and with it the nature of the critique of religion, changes according to whether we happen to be on the first, second or third level; but on all three he is concerned with religion in the sense of this definition.
Considered from this standpoint, Barth's critique of religion would seem to remain on the first level. At first sight, this might appear to be a very unfair thing to say, if one takes into account the essentially political dimension of Barth's theology. The fact is, apart from the radical-theological opposition to the ideology of National Socialism, formulated in the Barmen Declaration and made concrete in the sufferings of the German “Confessing Church”, Barth's theology is at most a brilliant continuation of a familiar theological tradition. Again, Barth's refusal after the second world war to let himself be hustled into an anti-communist ideology goes along with his political-cum-theological resistance to the “twentieth-century myth” of National Socialism and to the “Hitler or Moscow” alternative. In its political dimension, therefore, Barth's theology would rather seem to be an endorsement of the demand voiced by Marx that the critique of religion be transmuted into the critique of politics. In other words, Barth's theology would appear really to proceed on the second level of Marx's critique of religion.
Let us look rather more carefully, therefore. This series of lectures opted for a starting-point in Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, which Marx himself described as a critique of Germany. In my first lecture, I recalled that just a century later this critique of Germany was confirmed with a demonic accuracy in Hitler's Third Reich. The political and theological opposition offered by Karl Barth to the National Socialist myth did in fact pronounce on Germany's situation the judgment formulated by Marx almost a century before. It was a sentence passed upon the mythology of the Heilige Römische Reich deutscher Nation—the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation—which persisted in the Christian-Germanic idea of the state and found its absurd outcome in Hitler's Third Reich. This political mythology-cum-critique functions all the time at the first level of Marx's critique of religion. When Marx posits the need to move over from the critique of religion to that of politics, he has in view more than a critique of the idea of the Christian state and of the pagan mythology lurking at the back of it. His critique of Hegel's constitutional law is aimed at the hybrid monstrosity of constitutional monarchy, which he exposes as an impossible amalgam of two impossibilities. So his critique of Hegel's constitutional law proceeds at one and the same time on the first and on the second level. Its target is Hegel's philosophical justification of the Germano-Christian monarchy, as well as Hegel's philosophy of the French Revolution and of the modern, atheistic, constitutional state. Now on this second level of the critique of religion—the critique of the “heaven” of the modern political state—Marx is not followed by Barth. One looks in vain to Barth's theology for an unmasking of the Swiss state, of which he was and always remained a loyal citizen, or even for a critique remotely comparable with his devastating critique of the idea of the Christian-Germanic state and of Hitler's Germany. In this respect Barth's is indeed a “Swiss theology” par excellence. His theology simply lacks the categories and the organization for such a critique; and so the third level of Marx's critique of religion lies wholly beyond the purview of this theology.
A theological critique of religion which does not command an analytical method for pushing through from homo religiosus via the citizen (citoyen) to the bourgeois, naturally lacks the equipment for a critique on this third level, the critique of political economy. Whereas the German Karl Marx's critique of religion crossed first the Rhine and then the Channel, the Swiss Karl Barth's critique of religion failed to draw the line from Christian theology and religion via the modern state to the modern economy. It stayed on the first level.
As Barth's critique of religion may be regarded as the most basic and radical yet produced by Christian theology, one can gauge from the distance which separates Barth from Marx just how far behind theology is lagging, and what the transformation will be when theology is at last drawn through the gate of Marx's critique of heaven and earth. To illustrate this, I have chosen a central element of Marx's Critique of Political Economy, that is, the so-called “economic trinity”. At first sight this curious expression, to which I have already pointed, en passant, in earlier lectures, looks to be no more than an ironic play on words. Even were it no more than that, the word-play is worth closer investigation; for in the course of these lectures we have not infrequently come across this sort of figurative use of language by Marx, which seemed to contain a fundamental analogy. In this particular case, however, there is a cogent reason anyway for taking Marx's remarkable phrase seriously: namely, in virtue of the central position which the “economic trinity” occupies in his work as a whole. As I indicated on a previous occasion, we find this expression at the close of the third Book of Das Kapital and again at the end of the Theorieën über den Mehrwert, that is to say, of the fourth Book of Das Kapital. In this phrase Marx sums up concisely the basic structure of his work. We may recall that originally Marx had projected a basic scheme in six parts, which was later reduced to Das Kapital. Of this sexpartite scheme the “economic trinity” forms the first half, the basis on which the Critique of Political Economy rests.
Since the second half of the plan follows the scheme of Hegel's Philosophy of Right and of his Philosophy of History, it is natural to assume a similar relationship where the first half of the plan is concerned. Indeed we do find in Hegel's Philosophic der Geschichte a trinitarian structure, notably in his treatment of the history of the Christian-Germanic world. Hegel divides this into three successive periods. The first ends with Charlemagne, whilst the transition from the second to the third period is the reign of Charles the Fifth in the first half of the sixteenth century. The third period is ushered in by the Reformation. This threefold division supports a trinitarian structure. The three periods may be distinguished as successively the Kingdoms of the Father, of the Son and of the Spirit. On the analogy of this division, Hegel applies the same trinitarian principle to the preceding periods of world history. The Germano-Christian Realm is, in fact, the last in a succession of four Realms in world history, and in its trinitarian rhythm is, as it were, a summing up of that world history. The oriental world, in particular the Persian empire, is the Realm of the Father, the Greek world is the Realm of the Son, the Roman world the Realm of the Spirit.
The division into four Realms is something we find in the closing chapter of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, where “world history” is the subject. When in the Vorwort (Preface) to his Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie of 1859 Marx is describing the outcome of his revision of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, he arrives at a rough subdivision of mankind's history into four periods, successively determined by asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois relations of production. These four periods or epochs he characterizes as “so many epochs in the progress of the economic formation of society”. With the period of bourgeois production-relations “the prehistoric stage of human society” comes to an end.
It would be of interest in itself to make a comparison of Marx's fourfold division and Hegel's. In so doing we would be doing the journey in reverse, as it were, and via Hegel's Philosophy of History translating Marx's consideration of economic history back into the terms of a trinitarian theology. What is more, a method of this sort can make direct contact with the clear traces of a trinitarian structure in Marx's thought, which I have indicated as being present already in his most youthful work. We come across such traces again in the preliminary studies for his dissertation; namely, in the triad: visible heaven, sealed Word, unsealed Word.
This triple division is based on a “trinitarian” philosophy of history in which the pre-Christian period, the epoch of the Father, is dominated by the visible heaven; the Christian period, now approaching its end, is the epoch of the Son, the sealed Word; and now history awaits the unsealing of the Word, the coming Realm or Kingdom of the Spirit. What Marx's dissertation signifies against this background we saw as an identification with Epicurus' revolution versus the visible heaven, which should now be repeated in the revolution versus the sealed Word. When we looked more closely at Marx's first economic treatise on the legislation against wood-stealing, this turned out to reflect a trinitarian train of thought in its invocation of the state's inalienable duty to protect the rights of the poor.
This kind of evidence can be further supplemented with data in Marx's economic writings that postulate an analogy between economic and religious history. The contrast between the modern bourgeois economy and that of the preceding period is compared with the paired concepts “protestantism-Catholicism” and, parallel to that, with the polarity “Christianity-paganism”. This sort of analogy provides some indication of the relationship between Marx's fourfold division of economic history and the similar division that we find in Hegel's Philosophy of History. We know from his dissertation that Marx endorses the analogy Hegel posited between the advent of the bourgeois period of modern Europe and that of the Roman period of ancient civilization. All these things together serve to suggest a bipartite pattern underlying Marx's view of economic history, that is, a division into a pre-Christian period and a Christian one, making the main emphasis fall, just as Hegel had done, on the Christian period. Of Hegel's threefold partitioning of Germano-Christian history we find Marx retaining the second and third periods, that is, the feudal period and the modern bourgeois one. These, in Hegel's trinitarian definition, represent the Realm of the Son and the Realm of the Spirit.
When I was discussing Hegel's Philosophy of Right, I pointed to a contradiction between two distinct lines of development. One of them issues in the idea of the Germano-Christian state as the fulfilment of world history; but, as against that, there is another one which, via bourgeois society and its global expansion, issues in a world history that is the world's court of judgment on states as particular entities. We have seen that Marx's Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right entails a radicalizing of this second line. If we look at Hegel's trinitarian view of history from within the perspective towards which this second line is pointing us, then the inner contradiction in Hegel's Philosophy of History stands revealed at its climactic point, that is in the Realm of the Spirit. Not only does Marx's critical analysis bring this contradiction out into the open, but his scalpel also probes down to its roots, that is, to the inherent contradiction in bourgeois society, mirrored in Hegel's philosophy. The dissecting of this interrelationship is carried out in the Critique of Political Economy. It subjects Hegel's trinitarian view of history to remarkable and critical exposure, which is clearly evident in the structure of the sexpartite plan of the Critique of Political Economy.
Remember that this plan consists of two halves, the first of which comprises the economic trinity: capital, land-holding, wage-labour. In the second half, Marx pursues the line that I referred to as the second line in Hegel's Philosophy of Right. This second half is made up of the trinity: state, international trade, world market. If we now look at the sexpartite plan in its entirety, then the Critique of Political Economy emerges as the economic critique of Hegel's trinitarian Philosophy of History. The critique concentrates on the period characterized by Hegel as the Realm of the Spirit, the modern bourgeois period. Marx radically extends the second line of Hegel's Philosophy of Right and projects it on to the field of economics. The economic trinity engenders the Realm or Kingdom of the economic Spirit “unto the ends of the earth”: the world market. Christian history approaches its fulfilment when the bourgeoisie, like the eleven disciples at the end of Matthew's Gospel (Matt. 28:16–20), baptize the nations in the name of the economic trinity. The bourgeoisie, says the Communist Manifesto, plays a very revolutionary role over the whole surface of the globe, it compels all nations to adopt the bourgeois mode of production. In short, it creates a world after its own image. That is the Creator Spiritus of the economic Realm of the Spirit.
These somewhat sketchy pointers must suffice for the present to lend real plausibility to a theological background to the notion of an “economic trinity”. Before looking more closely to see what analytical method is applied to this central notion, we now turn first to the theology of Karl Barth. Our purpose here is, by comparing the one with the other, to get an impression of the kind of transformation theology may expect, if and when it is found to be ready to submit itself to Marx's critical method.
Within the tradition of Christian dogmatics as a whole, Barth's revolutionary act was to begin his dogmatics with God's revelation as the root of the doctrine of the Trinity. This took theology from the very start out of the orbit of a generally philosophical type of speculation and concentrated it upon the witness of Scripture. Although Barth takes it as self-evident that the doctrine of the Trinity is not to be found in the Bible directly, in the form of a dogmatic formulation, he does not see that as preventing him from making it the starting-point of his Dogmatics. On the contrary, his method entails his seeking the roots of the trinitarian doctrine in God's revelation, to which Scripture is witness. He finds it rooted in the three elements of unveiling, envelopment and proclamation. These elements he further defines as form, freedom, historicity; or Easter, Good Friday, Pentecost; or the Son, the Father, the Spirit.
Because Barth developed the doctrine of the Trinity on the basis of God's revelation, he refers in as many words to a term that stems from the tradition of dogmatics, “economic trinity”. This has long served to mark the distinction between the revealed Trinity and the Trinity as the mysterious being of God “from eternity”, the “immanent Trinity”. It is a principle of Barth's dogmatic method that he starts from God's revelation, that is to say, from the “economic Trinity” and only on that basis discourses upon the “immanent Trinity”. This dogmatic tradition goes back to the Fathers of the second century A.D. Tertullian's theory regarding the trinitarian economy links up with the Greek word oikonomia, which in the New Testament denotes God's eschatological action in history through His Son (Ephes. 1:10; 3:9). With Irenaeus the purpose of the Incarnation, of God's becoming man, namely, “that we may become godlike”, is unfolded in the “economy” of salvation history. Thus the term focuses directly on the relation between God's revelation and history. Furthermore, there is a close connection with the technical term “economy” as currently employed in general discourse. In the New Testament the terms oikonomia and oikonomos usually denote “stewardship” and “steward” respectively (e.g., Luke 12:42; 16:1 ff.); and Paul too understands the term in that sense when he refers to himself as oikonomos, steward, of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1 f.). Indeed, as an apostle he identifies the stewardship entrusted to him with God's “economy” or plan (Ephes. 3:9; Coloss. 1:25). Implicitly, that identification confirms the “economic” origin of the theological terminology as well as the close relationship with the history of events after Pentecost.
Barth does not delve into the tradition of the terminology; but he does offer a radical critique of the theological tradition which claims to discover everywhere—in nature, history, religion, in the human soul—traces of the Trinity (vestigia trinitatis). Of course, Barth rejects this idea root and branch, as it represents a typical instance of natural theology. On the one hand, he sees the theology of trinitarian history, inaugurated by Joachim of Flora in the Middle Ages, having its outcome in the secularized mythology of Moeller van den Bruck's Das dritte Reich. On the other hand, he draws a line from Augustine's trinitarian interpretation of the structure of human consciousness to modern philosophy, which by way of Descartes, Kant, Schelling and Hegel eventually arrives at Feuerbach. The line is not extended through to Marx; but in such a sketchy survey of the varieties which trinitarian speculation has to offer this would seem unnecessary. The political dimension of Barth's theology gives marked emphasis to his unbending refusal to go in for any sort of speculation. I believe that I reflect what Barth had in mind when I see speculations of this sort, in so far as they take the form of a philosophy of history, as resulting in one or another ideology, whether it be National Socialism, the Soviet ideology, or that of the “free West”.
An unconditional “No” to every form of ideological view of history is theologically necessary and justified; but the reverse side of Barth's resistant attitude is his inability to take seriously the problem which the philosophy of history tries to answer. It is the problem of what the relation is between God's revelation and our history, more especially our “Christian” history. Although the aspect or element of the Spirit is described by Barth as historicity (Geschichtlichkeit), it says a great deal that this is precisely the aspect he does not persist in exploring further. In the relevant section (section 12) the holy Spirit is discussed only under the aspect of redemption, whereas about historicity nothing is said. The superficial reduction of the notion of religion that is “superseded” by revelation is something I have already matched against the depth of Marx's critique of religion. Since the passage in question (section 12) forms part of the third part, dealing with “the outpouring of the Holy Spirit”, here is an indication that the inability to relate the Spirit to history is taking its toll in an inadequate anatomy of religion as a historical reality; and behind that lies the central question of what capacity to analyse this theological method has. In the second part, which has to do with the “incarnation of the Word”, Barth attacks the tendency to make revelation a predicate of history. No; on the contrary, history is a predicate of revelation (section 14). Nowhere, however, are we told what this means concretely. Again in the first chapter, which grounds the doctrine of God's revelation in the Word of God, the freedom of God's activity is so absolutely divorced from everything that has to do with our notion of nature and history that the character of history-as-predicate remains an empty concept (section 5). When we have sought in vain for some more concrete representation in the doctrine of God's Providence (section 48–49), in the end even the last volume to appear does nothing to enlighten us. In the section on “the Holy Spirit and the mission of the Christian community” (section 72) “the people of God in world history” are committed to the guiding utterance Hominum confusione et Dei providentia regitur; but nowhere can one find any trace of a concrete analysis of this perplexity and disorder among men.
The theology which has made its appearance in the twentieth century as “dialectical theology” or as the “theology of crisis” has as a “critique of heaven” had a refining function; but as a “critique of earth” it has not filled the bill. If the critical format, the strictness of method and the classical structure of Barth's theology turn out to be unable to command sufficient analytical power in this respect, then that puts a fundamental question-mark against the analytical method of theology as such. I would think it a backward step if we were to invoke the aid of other methods of theological approach, whose “critique of Heaven” cannot measure up to the sheer weight and radicality of Barth's critique. Theology as a whole stands confronted here with the still virgin task of a radical critique of heaven and of earth.
All this brings us back to Marx's critical analysis of the “economic trinity”. It is time we formed a more detailed impression of the method applied there. A fundamental correspondence with the method of Barth's theology is implicit in the diagnosis and the therapy conjoined with it. Marx and Barth alike expose as the original sin of philosophical theology or of theological philosophy, the confusion of subject and predicate. Each man's method consists in a fundamental inversion of this wrong relationship, so that subject and predicate are returned to their right place; and in both their methods the diagnosis is achieved in and through the therapy. The correspondence extends even further and is literally applicable to the “economic trinity”. Barth's thesis that revelation is not the predicate of history but, on the contrary, history is a predicate of revelation, holds good also of Marx's critique. The “economic trinity” is not the predicate of history, explained first in some other way, but the “economic trinity” is the subject of history, the substance apart from which history is not to be understood.
It is precisely this far-reaching correspondence that enables us to register, with the greatest possible clarity, the radical difference between the methods of Barth and of Marx. When Barth succeeds in inverting and setting right the wrong relation between subject and predicate, this is a theological leap that transposes the circulus vitiosus of the false relation into the circulus salutis of the true one. Religion, history as determined by the Fall, these are “superseded” by God's revelation. The possibility of such a crucial leap cannot by definition have its ground in the circulus vitiosus; it can only derive from the reality of the circulus salutis and only within that be comprehended by faith, in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a leap from total darkness into total light, a creatio ex nihilo; but a leap in which history is “superseded”. It is a tremendous merit of Barth's Dogmatics that in them the doctrine of God's revelation is developed out of the history of the Incarnation of the Word, and the doctrine of the Trinity derives from that. Yet this gain also becomes a loss, because no real relation is established with our history. The dialectic, it would seem, is not able to overcome the dualism.
Marx's method is basically dialectical. To put it in theological terms, it follows neither the gratia non tollit, sed perficit naturam (“grace does not abrogate nature, but perfects it”) of natural theology, nor the gratia tollit naturam (“grace abrogates, or supersedes nature”) of Barth's theology. It neither assumes the possibility of a “leap across” from sin to grace, nor posits a vicious (i.e., intractable) impossibility. The circulus of sin is in fact not a circulus vitiosus; but it does contain an intrinsic impossibility which because of its impossibility is destined to supersede itself. The circle is bound sooner or later to explode, it is per se non-viable. The moment at which the closed circle bursts apart is the exodus from the intrinsic impossibility. The principium contradictionis has then demonstrated its truth and its reality, the contradiction is self-destroying. Yet this dialectic has a positive side too, for the principium contradictionis is not only a self-annihilating principle but an active principle as well; it acts as a source of motive energy. Marx's analysis lays bare the hidden contradiction in which the visible phenomena are rooted, and thereby at the same time reveals the dynamic engendered by the historical process. Thus he opens the Critique of Political Economy by analysing the contradiction between exchange-value and use-value, and then concludes, “The differentiation of commodities (into commodities and money) does not sweep away these inconsistencies, but it creates a form in which they can exist side by side. This is generally the way in which real contradictions are resolved. For instance, it is a contradiction to depict one body as constantly falling towards another and as at the same time constantly flying away from it. The ellipse is a form of motion in which this contradiction is simultaneously realized and resolved.”
The mathematical analogy which Marx calls in aid here brings us back once more to the astronomy of Kepler, whose discovery I compared in an earlier lecture with Marx's discovery of what was so original in Epicurus. The point at issue here is not the character of astronomical or atomic motions, but the “circulation” of commodities (Warenzirkulation) and the “currency” (Umlauf) of money. The terminology of the economic process plainly corresponds to the celestial motions and so automatically, as it were, puts us on to the astronomical track. This in itself is a clue to the connection between Marx's “critique of heaven” and his “critique of earth”—an indication powerfully underlined by the analogy with the mathematical figure of the ellipse. “The circulation of commodities is the starting-point for capital… The modern history of capital dates from the creation of worldwide trade and a world market in the sixteenth century.” So begins the chapter on “the conversion of money into capital”. The growth in the circulation of commodities, in other words, is the point from which began the global expansion described in the latter three parts of Marx's sexpartite plan for the Critique of Political Economy. In this world-embracing movement “economic trinity” describes the dynamic movement of Hegel's “world history”.
It is highly significant in this context that in the Introduction to his Philosophy of History, where he discusses the particular nature of the course taken by world history and historical progress, Hegel himself refers to the method of astronomical research developed by Kepler. The dialectical course of world history, in which the consciousness of freedom on the part of the Spirit is evolved, is so structured that each rung on the ladder of this development has a principle all its own, and quite distinct from other rungs, which principle Hegel defines as “a particular national genius”, that is to say, the genius or spirit whereby a people succeeds in expressing its actual, concrete existence as an entity. The peculiar nature of this can only be understood by applying a method of enquiry in which there is constant interaction between abstraction and empirical observation, the principle and the infinite multiplicity of detailed data, the “idea” and the concrete facts. It was in accordance with such a method that Kepler made his revolutionary discoveries. Because he was familiar a priori with mathematical figures like ellipses, cubes and squares, therefore he was able to discover “from the empirical data those immortal laws of his”.
Marx associated himself very closely indeed with this Hegelian exposition; but he transposed it into economic history. Hegel's “particular national genius” is transposed into the “particular mode of production” that is dominant in this or that particular historical form of society, the special quality of lighting, as it were, in which all the other colours are bathed, the special “ether” which determines the specific gravity of everything that appears in it. So far as the method of enquiry is concerned, Marx accepts the interaction between abstract and concrete, as Hegel described it; but Marx bases his fundamental critique on this methodological principle, as Hegel had himself disavowed it. It is indeed the right scientific method for analysing a concrete totality into abstract qualities and then describing the concrete totality as though it were made up of these abstract qualities. To our thinking, therefore, it does indeed look as though the concrete totality is the result of a process that combines the several abstract qualities; and Hegel's speculative philosophy confuses this semblance with reality. In point of fact, though, things happen precisely the other way round. That is why, when it comes to the study of society, “in the employment of the theoretical method the subject, society, must constantly be kept in mind as the premise from which we start”. Marx realized very well what problem this interaction entails. It is this: that at the end of a successful investigation which first analyses (Forschung) and then describes (Darstellung) the concrete totality being investigated, the “life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, so that it may appear as if we are dealing with an a priori construction”. His critique, which brings Hegel's dialectical method back from mere semblance to reality and turns it right side up, as it were, has no other aim than to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell. For the method is correct: Hegel was the first to present dialectic's general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner.
From this viewpoint a clear light is shed upon Marx's account of the dialectic of the economic process on the analogy of elliptical motion. He is applying here the method Hegel has described by reference to Kepler's astronomical discoveries. An application of the ellipse-model did indeed play a revolutionary role in Kepler's investigations. In calculating the path described by the planet Mars, Kepler as a scientist had the courage to part company with the Platonic axiom requiring all celestial bodies to follow a uniform, circular motion. Prompted by an almost endless series of laborious calculations, an irrepressible doubt arose in Kepler's mind regarding this ancient axiom, which till then had always been the incontrovertible foundation of astronomy. When he had racked his brains over the problem pene usque ad insaniam (until it had nearly driven him mad), suddenly the scales fell from his eyes when he realized that the formula he had worked out for the Martian orbit fitted exactly one particular pattern of an ellipse. It is not so much the formulation of Kepler's law, according to which a planet will describe an ellipse with the sun in one of the focal points, but the irreparable break with the Platonic axiom of uniform, circular motion that marks Kepler's discovery as a revolutionary moment in the history of science. In Dijksterhuis's words (“The mechanizing of our world view”), we see here “as it were the door separating the hall of ancient and medieval science from that of the classical (modern) variety turn upon its hinges; and with the man who opened it we may go into the newly unlocked area of thought.”
In its revolutionary importance the way that Marx makes use of the mathematical properties of the ellipse is on a par with Kepler's own application. It goes without saying that the use Marx makes of this differs as much from Kepler's as economics differs from astronomy; but the correspondence lies in the break which both of them made with the circular model. In the case of Marx this break occurs at two levels—the first being the historical one. By transposing the economic “circulation”—model into an elliptical model governed by the contradiction between two focal points—use-value and exchange-value—he discovers the key to the description of a historical process which through its immanent contradiction simultaneously propels itself forward and contrives its own ruin. To the “eternal” economic “laws of nature” which go with the classical economy, Marx opposes a fundamentally historical model of a historical phase, of which he can explain the historical origins and the historical end, genesis and crisis too.
At the same time this model is operative at a second, theological level. From Hegel, Marx learnt a historical method which he transposed on to the economic reality of man's history. That entailed, on the one hand, a break with a theological method which we might call Platonic. We have seen that in Barth's theology this method is implemented in a new form and with extreme consistency: the circulus vitiosus of sin is “superseded” or annulled in the circulus salutis of God's revelation. Hegel's historico-dialectical method carries within it the possibility of transposing this circle-model into a historical model in which justice is done to the reality of human history as a developing process moving towards a goal; but for Hegel the Platonic tendency proves too powerful. Marx discovers the principium contradidionis to be the dynamic and critical principle of earthly, that is, material history. Whilst that does not in itself make world history “the world's court of judgment”, the latter is effected in and through world history. Marx is fundamentally opposed to pseudo-theological constructions of a primordial, paradisal situation or a terminal, Utopian situation, which in economic analysis merely cloak the inability to provide a real explanation of the contradictions in economic history. To express it in theological terms, he concentrates on actual history after the expulsion from Paradise and before the dawning of the End; for prior to that there was as yet no history and after it history will have ceased. In Marx's dialectical critique the principium contradidionis is the principle of the peccatum originate; only with the Fall does man's history, as we know it, begin, and at the same time with the Fall the final judgment on history is in principle carried out; in both a positive and a negative sense the Fall is the supremely human and the supremely historical category, because it sets its limits to history, limits without which history could not be real history at all.
Actual history as we know it and as we ourselves make it from day to day—that is, sub specie peccati originalis, sub conditione principii contradidionis—is the “pre-historic stage of human society” (Vorgeschichte der menschlichen Gesellschaft). It is in the prefix, in the “pre”—, that we can feel the very heartbeat of Marx's critical method. Here the bloodstreams coursing through his critique flow together. The process he is investigating is one which has entered its final and decisive phase, and that final phase bears the marks of both extinction and resurrection: the death throes are at the same time birthpangs. In the final phase the temptation to anticipate has become almost irresistible. Thus, Hegel makes the Realm of the Spirit start with the Reformation. But anticipation is the great perversion; and it is so in a dual sense: it confers on pre-history the predicate of real history and in that way wraps sin in the garment of salvation. In that final phase occurs the twofold perversion which the New Testament calls the manifestation of Antichrist: Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14; 1 John 2:22; Matt. 24:5; etc.). It is this perversion which Marx describes as the speculative play of Schein (“mere semblance” or “sham”) and Widerschein (“reflection”), of a verkehrtes Weltbewusstsein (a perverted world consciousness) and a verkehrte Welt (a perverted world). It is this perversion which he refers to as “religion”. Just as the cry of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”, starts from the assumption that this is a perverted, a topsy-turvy world, so is Marx's critique directed at the perverted world of modern, Christian society. And the term “pre-history” echoes the biblical “is at hand”.
Marx's critique is at once anatomy and analysis, because the final phase is both a process of dying and a process of birth. The anatomy of political economy, that is to say, of civil society's “material conditions of life”, conditions of life which have become also conditions of death: pathological anatomy, the cutting open of a dying root. Anatomy is an-atomy, an exposing of the atomistic character of modern society. The anatomy of the last phase of pre-history and, on that basis, of the earlier periods of history. In that sense Engels' posthumous tribute to Marx as the Darwin of human history is apt—but then only in the specific sense of “a Darwin in reverse”. “The anatomy of the human being is the key to the anatomy of the ape”; the bourgeois economy furnishes a key to the preceding periods. As anatomy, notice; that is to say, as a critical exposing of the last phase, the phase of dying. Yet the final phase is also the supreme one, just as man's existence is the outcome of a preliminary process which organic life has undergone. The process whereby the capitalist mode of production is formed (Bildungsprozess) is also the process which brings about the dissolution of an earlier mode of production in society (Auflosungsprozess, Scheidungsprodukt).
In that sense, critique is also analysis. Scientific analysis, which transfers the method of modern astronomy to the economy. The an-atomy of civil society is carried out in an analysis that uncovers the inner nature of capital beneath the outer appearance and understands that nature, “just as the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies are intelligible only to the person familiar with their real motions—motions not however directly perceptible by the senses”. Scientific analysis, that is to say, by means of abstraction, in the same way that a natural scientist uses tubes and retorts in order to study a chemical process but abstracts from the apparatus when it comes to his analysis. The analysis serves to dissect the complex, concrete totality into its several elements. If the analysis of processes in nature is difficult, the analysis of historical processes is even more exacting. The specific problems involved are described by Marx in the Vorwort to the first Book of Das Kapital. In the study of organisms in general, the body as an organic whole is easier to study than is the separate cell. In the analysis of economic forms there is the added disadvantage that one has neither microscope nor chemical reagent to help one. In their stead, one has to employ the force of abstraction (Abstraktionskrqft). To the layman this analysis has the appearance of becoming embroiled in mere niceties of detail. It does indeed deal in minutiae, but in the same way that micro-logical anatomy does. Marx sees this high degree of abstraction as explaining why the fundamental analysis performed by him had never been carried out before, so that the first chapter of Das Kapital, devoted to the analysis of the commodity, is also the most difficult. “The value-form, the fully developed shape of which is the money-form, is very elementary and simple. Nevertheless, the human mind has for more than 2000 years sought in vain to get to the bottom of it.” Why did Marx succeed where no one had ever succeeded before? Because history had itself advanced to this high degree of abstraction. “For bourgeois society the commodity-form of the product of labour—or the value form of the commodity—is the economic cell-form.” Only in this final phase of the “prehistoric stage of human society” does economic development itself make such an analysis possible. The simplest abstraction, namely, abstract general labour, “appears in this abstraction truly realized only as a category of modern society”. Moreover, this analysis can only succeed where modern society has attained such a high degree of development. The physicist examines natural processes and conducts his experiments under conditions that reduce disruptive influences to a minimum. This is why Marx chooses for his study of the capitalistic mode of production and the conditions of production and exchange corresponding to it the “classic ground” of his day, England. So his dissecting knife probes down to the roots of the formation of modern society, on the basis of which earlier formations and less well-developed situations in other countries can be understood. >From England he can conduct the critique of Germany and cry out to what had been his fatherland, De te fabula narratur, just as from the most advanced phase of development in man's history a revealing light shines upon the preceding phase, the “bestial stage in the history of mankind”. So the aim proposed for his analysis is “to reveal the economic law of motion in modern society”. Not in the illusion that it will be able to leap over or ignore phases that conform with its natural development (naturgemässe Entwicklungsfasen). What the analysis does permit, on the other hand, is “shortening and lessening the birth pangs”.
Thus scientific analysis becomes ana-lusis, becomes a work of deliverance and release applied to society and history, rather in the wake of Socrates' “maieutic” critique, which assists truth at the moment of birth. The birthpangs, however, are also death throes; indeed, pre-history must first die of its own non-viability before the true human society can dawn. England, pioneer of the Industrial Revolution, is at the same time the industrial hell “in which Dante would have found the worst horrors of his Inferno surpassed”. The anatomy of political economy must follow in Dante's footsteps through Inferno and Purgatorio, must pick its way through the wraithlike fictions civil society has produced. In the final phase of the pre-history of human society the real state of affairs is stood on its head, truth is mirrored in chimerical notions, the realm of the living is a spirit-world of shades, the world is a perverted world. Just as through the physical process that takes place in the eye an inverted image of reality appears on the retina, so does the historical life-process produce within the camera obscura of prehistory, in the last phase of civil society, a perverted world consciousness. It is the task of an anatomical critique to analyse the relation between the historical life-process and the perverted consciousness and so “to develop out of the actual conditions of life their corresponding celestialized (verhimmelte) forms”. Then this perverted consciousness must be dissected so that its roots can be seen.
This critical analysis is the task of the Critique of Political Economy. The perverted consciousness of the bourgeois economy expresses itself most succinctly in the formula of the “economic trinity”. In the same way that a scholastic theology can obfuscate the doctrine of the Trinity by reducing it to a conglomerate of three divine persons, a similar fate awaits the “economic trinity” in the vulgar economy. The classic bourgeois economy does make a serious attempt at an analysis that will bring out the oneness within the threeness; but any such attempt is bound to misfire because the classical economy is powerless to unmask the illusory forms of civil society. Marx's critical method positions the knife just at the spot where the classical economic analysis stops short. Then again, it follows exactly the opposite path to theology. It is precisely this inverted method that conforms with the character of the “economic trinity” as the credo of the perverted world consciousness, the reflection of a perverted world. Whereas Karl Barth's theological dogmatics try to present the classical structure by starting with the doctrine of the Trinity as the essence of God's revelation, the “economic trinity” only turns up at the end of Das Kapital as a typical surface-phenomenon, a bogus form, which is only seen as a real one by the superficial consciousness of the run-of-the-mill capitalist and by the vulgar economy which is his mouthpiece. Whilst the theological Trinity represents the essential being of God from eternity, the “economic trinity” is the particular structure of the latest phase of the “prehistoric stage of human society”, the civil or bourgeois form of society; it belongs not to the beginning but to the end of history. In other words, the “economic trinity” is a specific illusion standing in the same inverted relation to the actual condition of “human society” as the Antichrist has to Christ: a pseudo-anticipation. That is the very reason why the basic plan of the Critique of Political Economy is built on this trinitarian scheme; for the job of the Critique is after all to expose the sham.
The classic formula, una substantia, tres personae, summarizing the theological doctrine of the Trinity, is reflected in the economic illusion. I pointed to this connection in my eighth lecture. Behind the masked characters appearing on the economic stage Marx analyses the one substance. Just as in the theological doctrine of the Trinity the pivot is formed by Christology as the theory concerning the Mediator, the Second Person, so in the “economic trinity” capital functions as “the active middle” (Kapital muss immer als die tätige Mitte erscheinen), to such an extent, in fact, that the original sexpartite plan is eventually reduced to Das Kapital. Closer analysis shows that the concealed una substantia, the single “substance”, is constituted by surplus value. If we then proceed to read the first Book of Das Kapital from back to front, then via the “production of (absolute and relative) surplus value” we get to the analysis of the “transformation of money into capital” in order finally, via the analysis of “money or the circulation of commodities”, to end up with the first chapter, “Commodities and money”. It is in the closing section of this same first chapter that we find the epitome of Marx's critique of heaven and earth: “The fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof”.
Here is where the dissecting knife touches the very root; here is that conjunctive point at which all the threads I have been following through this series of lectures come together. There is a profound and most probably deliberate irony in Marx's choice of the term “fetish”, which remains constantly in attendance right through the course of Das Kapital. After all, in Hegel's Philosophy of World History (Philosophie der Weltgeschichte) fetishism is placed on the bottom rung, where the developing process of world history has not as yet really begun. In fact, the African negro “exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state. We must lay aside all thought of reverence and morality—all that we call feeling—if we would rightly comprehend him; in this character nothing is to be found that can remind us of any human quality”. For in what is the typical African character the “category of universality” is entirely absent. The negro has not yet attained to the consciousness of any settled, objective reality such as, for instance, God or Law. Actually, he has not yet got as far as religion; for “religion begins with the consciousness that there is something higher than man”. The negro is still living in a world of sorcery, where there is no idea of a God, of a moral belief. Sorcery “exhibits man as the highest power, regarding him as alone occupying a position of command over the power of nature”. In this sorcerer's-religion, Hegel goes on to tell us, the negroes give a visible form of expression to this arbitrary power of theirs, projecting it outside themselves and making themselves images of it. “What they envisage as their power, therefore, is not an objective or substantial reality that is different from themselves, but usually the first object to present itself, which they raise to the dignity of genius, whether it be animal, tree, stone or figure of wood. This is the fetish, a word first given currency by the Portuguese, and deriving fromfeitizo, sorcery. Here, in the fetish, a kind of independence as contrasted with the caprice of an individual does seem to assert itself, it is true; but as the objectivity (Gegenstandlichkeit) is nothing other than the individual caprice making a graphic representation of itself, the individual caprice remains master of the projected image.”
This piece of exposition by Hegel makes an excellent introduction to Marx's use of the terms “fetish” and “fetishism”. Only Marx's interpretation penetrates behind the Portuguese term to the Latin source. The word factitius (“factitious” in English) actually means “artificial” (as opposed to “natural”), “copied”, “simulated” (as opposed to “original”, “genuine”, “real”). The commodity, which is the foundation-element of economic exchange, is in that sense “factitious”, factitius, created by man. It is this character of the economic process as historically determined, as determined by man's thinking and behaviour, which in the “fetish-like character” of the commodity forms the starting-point of Marx's analysis. The field of his enquiry is civil society, the latest and highest phase of world history, as the terminal phase of Hegel's Philosophy of History included under the Germano-Christian empire, characterized as the realm of the Spirit. Quite deliberately, on this highest rung of mankind's history, Marx's action is to select the term central to Hegel's description of the bottommost rung, the subhuman level, the term “fetishism”. Once more we see the character of the “economic trinity” being confirmed, as an illusion on the analogy of the Antichrist. Corruptio optimi pessima: the corruption of the best is the worst corruption of all. It is in the final phase of the “prehistoric stage of human society”, and precisely there, that the corruptio originalis finds its fullest expression. On the highest rung is revealed the vanity of “progress” in the final result, which is exactly like the position at the start.
With that, the circle of the critique of heaven and earth is indeed closed once more. The critique of theology is transformed, via the critique of law, into the critique of political economy, the outcome of which is the critique of fetishism, that is, the critique of theology. The critique of religion becomes the critique of Germany, that is to say, of Hegel's Germano-Christian end-phase of world history; but this philosophy turns out, on closer analysis of the economic roots of law, to issue in the most primitive religion, fetishism.
So it is that Marx's analysis leaves us uncertain whether it belongs to the critique of earth or to the critique of heaven. Our doubt is bound up directly with the nature of the object being investigated. After all, a commodity appears at first sight a very trivial thing, and easily understood. But further analysis shows that a commodity “is a very queer thing, full of metaphysical subtleties and theological hair-splitting”. In so far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about the commodity; but “so soon as it begins to function as a commodity, it changes into something at once accessible and inaccessible to sense, something transcendent (sinnlich übersinnliches). It not only stands with its feet on the ground; but in relation to all other commodities it puts itself on its head”. Then an ordinary wooden table evolves “out of its wooden brain fancies much more grotesque than any impulse it might have to dance a jig”.
“The mysterious thing about a commodity is simply this: that in it the social character of men's labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour, as a matter of social attributes accruing to it in the course of nature. In contrast to the physical process which converts the impact of light upon the retina to the image of an object which is itself outside the eye, the commodity-form and the value-relation between the products of labour have nothing to do with the physical nature of the commodity. It is only the particular social relation between men themselves which here assumes in their imagination the fantastic form of a relation between things. If we want to find an analogy, we shall have to ascend into the misty regions of religion. There the products of the human brain seem endowed with a life of their own, self-subsistent forms having a relation to one another and with human beings. So is it in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands.” Marx calls this the “fetishism inseparably bound up with the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, a fetishism therefore which cannot be divorced from the production of commodities”.
Thus, this fetishism differs essentially from that described by Hegel as being the religion of the African negroes. There indeed it is in the traditional sense of the word a phenomenon of “religion” that can be analysed by the traditional critique of religion. Marx's critique, on the other hand, not only discovers this religion on the highest rung of world history, but religion here is identical with the economic structure of the actual form of society, the fetishism is implicit in the actual conditions of production. The paradox consists in the fact that the fetishism, which by Hegel's account is marked by the complete absence of any capacity for abstraction, here turns out to be inherent in a most highly developed form of society, which is characterized by a perfected capacity for abstraction. The fact that forms of society develop to a higher stage is precisely what forces the critique of religion to transform itself into a critique of political economy. The truth is that at a lower stage of development, where “the umbilical cord of the natural cohesion of men's social existence”, which binds individual people together, has not yet been cut, this natural restraint is ideally reflected in the ancient worship of nature and in other popular religions. In earlier modes of production, typical of asiastic, ancient and feudal forms of society, we find the conversion of products into commodities, and therefore the conversion of people into the producers of commodities, playing a subordinate role. “Trading nations exist in the ancient world only in the interstices (intermundia), like the gods of Epicurus or like the Jews in the pores of Polish society.”
With this analogy Marx resumes the thread of his dissertation. I spoke in an earlier lecture of the connection Marx establishes between Epicurus' philosophy of atoms and the atomistic structure of civil society. Like the atomistic deity of Epicurus, the modern citizen is autonomous and completely independent, but precisely because of this autonomous activity also creator and sustainer of the process of reciprocal attraction and repulsion between the atoms. Putting it in terms of modern civil society, the private and totally self-sufficient bourgeois mode of existence is also the activating principle of the bellum omnium contra omnes, the free play of economic elements, the atomistic world of capitalist competition. Epicurus' atheistic philosophy is in fact the atheistic religion of the modern citizen (the member of “civil society”). A form of society that in the ancient world was the exception has now become the all-prevailing one. Epicurus' gods no longer exist in the intermundia, the interstices of the world of the nations, but they swarm across the globe, compelling other peoples into their magic circle, creating the entire world after their own image, the image of the modern “private citizen”.
Epicurus had the nerve, as a lone apostate, to repudiate the ancient religious cult of the celestial bodies. The modern citizen, on the other hand, venerates the circulation, the cyclical movement, of the modern economic process with the same sort of religious naivety as the ancient Greeks did the celestial motions. But since then there has been a fundamental change. The religion of the “visible heavens” has made way for that of the “sealed Word”. Christianity has cut the umbilical cord which united man with the cosmic powers; the religion of modern man has become abstract, it has been embodied in the modern fetishism of commodities. Christianity has become the economic religion. “For a society of commodity-producers whose relation to social production in general is that they relate to their products as commodities, that is, values, producers who in this material form reduce their individual labour to the standard of homogeneous human labour—for such a society Christianity, with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism, etc., is the most adequate form of religion.”
In this way the critique of Christianity, which with Barth remains on the level of religion in the received sense of the word, ends up on the level of the economy. The “cultus of abstract man” is certainly inaugurated by the Reformation and is translated by Hegel into philosophical language; but it takes a proper shape in civil society only in the political economy of Adam Smith, the “Luther of national economy”. This is why at the very centre the Critique of Political Economy is a critique of the Christian religion in its actual form as the spirit, the “genius”, of society's history, on the very highest rung of its development.
But the Critique goes deeper than that. It bears upon the tendency to envisage the world more and more in mathematical and mechanical terms, against which Marx's vista of an all-round, humane materialism is a gesture of revolt. On the modern development of the physical science the physicist, C. F. von Weizsäcker, has made the following observations which, put in terms of the critique of political economy, read like a sort of commentary on Marx's analysis.
“When it comes to the physical sciences, we find ourselves nowadays in a state of disillusionment about as extreme as we are able to conceive; and we look back today over the way we have come. Through all the centuries the world has stood for God, albeit in very divergent ways. At one time it was itself divine. Later, it pointed to its creator. In recent times it has become a surrogate for God. But we have not thereby returned to the view of pagan antiquity, which was itself divine or, as it has been strikingly put, full of gods. It is only as a beautiful, if usually ill-comprehended, memory that this world re-emerges for our day. The road back to it has been barred by a more powerful urge: the urge towards the infinite. The gods of the pagan world are the forces of nature in and around us. The world of our natural existence, however, is finite and relative. Christianity has made the infinite and absolute the goal of our endeavours. Secularized, modern man has not given up this aspiration, but is seeking to realize it only in another plane. Essentially, therefore, his attitude to nature comes down to this: that he is exceeding the limits and the scope of his original, natural existence. He is penetrating—to use the language of antiquity—into a country without gods or into one whose gods are strange, are alien to us. And as he does so, he obtains a knowledge and a power which every earlier period would have held to be both unlawful and impracticable. Knowledge and power have become our gods; and they have been surrounded with a halo of the infinite and the absolute.”
Being both a physicist and a Christian, von Weizsäcker does not stop short at this diagnosis, but searches for an answer. We have to start “by seeing the abyss and facing up to the void”. The surrogate-symbolism has collapsed like a pack of cards. Not because it was symbolical, but because it was a surrogate. The void with which we are confronted is no end but the summons to a decision. “Everything depends on whether we are really willing to listen to God. Not where we would be glad to hear his voice, but where he is really speaking to us.” It is here the dilemma really becomes inescapable. For if we are prepared to listen, shall we not find ourselves standing irrevocably outside science? “Does not our life then fall apart into two worlds: that of real, authentic existence qua man, and the unavoidable but intrinsically meaningless technical-cum-physical world? Can we set aside the fact that the external world is bereft of all meaning without indulging in self-deception?”
For Marx, this question is already answered by the actual structure of civil society. The self-deception is inherent in the “cult of abstract man”; and the meaninglessness of the technical and natural world is one which that society has itself produced and reproduces all the time in its “religion of everyday life” (Religion des Alltagslebem). It is the meaninglessness of the “realm of necessity”. How deeply Marx felt the barb of this is evident from the fact that at the end of Das Kapital, in the chapter on “The Trinitarian Formula”, he is obliged to resort to a term which in his works is usually a technical term for the idea of religion, the term jenseits, “yonder”, “away and beyond”. “In point of fact, the realm of freedom begins only where the kind of labour that is determined by sheer need and by an extrinsic expediency ceases; in the nature of the case, therefore, it lies beyond (jenseits) the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must contend with nature to satisfy his wants, and provide for and reproduce the means of subsistence, so too civilized man has to wrestle with nature, and do so in every form of society and under every possible mode of production. As he develops, this realm of physical necessity expands, as his wants multiply; but at the same time the forces of production which satisfy those wants also multiply. Freedom in this area can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by a blind force; and achieving this interchange with the least expenditure of energy, and under conditions most worthy of their human nature. But it still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it (jenseits) begins that development of human energy which is sensible of being an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which yet can only blossom and flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working day is its fundamental prerequisite.”
At this point we are back once more with the Vorwort of Das Kapital, where Marx defines the ultimate purpose (letzte Endzweck) of the Critique of Political Economy as being to reveal the “law of economic motion” of modern society, with a view to “shortening and lessening the birth-pangs”. The English language preserves the connection between heavy work and the pangs of giving birth, in the words “labour” and “travail”. The “shortening of the working day” and the “shortening of the birth-pangs” are very closely akin to each other, in the sense that work, labour, within the realm of blind necessity, without the dawning light of the realm of freedom anywhere in view, resembles a false pregnancy or an abortion. Work, comprehended within the total context of our human mode of being, means working for the completion of the “prehistoric stage of human history”. Marx sums up the genius of Hegel's philosophy when he says that Hegel “grasps the self-creation (Selbsterzeugung) of man as a process…; and that he therefore understands the nature of labour, and comprehends the human being of flesh and blood (gegenstanälichen Menschen), real and therefore true man, as the result of his own labour”. That is Hegel's philosophy stood right side up, as it were. That is the labour which triumphs over the “cult of abstract man”. Labour means labouring for the completion of history; it lies in the constellation of birth.
Yet the birth-pangs are at one and the same time death-throes. The awareness of this dialectic permeates Marx's critique of heaven and earth. The work of completing history threatens to be unavailing. At the beginning of this series of lectures, I reminded you of the theological problem of the Fall. It is not devoid of significance that the story of Paradise ends with the “pain and sorrow of child-bearing”, the “eating of bread in the sweat of your face” and with “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Paul bases himself on this in the eighth chapter of the Letter to the Romans: the whole creation is subject to futility—but in hope; it is in travail. This chapter I have put alongside the Magna Charta of the critique of religion, the Introduction to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, which forms the background to this series of lectures. The remarkable ambiguity of analogy and contrast between the two texts is even now, at the close of my lectures, not removed. That ambiguity belongs to the historical period in which we live. The dilemma is different from the one that the earliest Christian community had to face. Marx himself compared the “cult of abstract man” with the worship of the beast described in the Revelation of John. The essential difference, however, is that in the worship of the beast it is the death-throes of ancient paganism that are taking shape, whereas in the modern “cult of abstract man” what is in its death-throes is the history of the Corpus Christianum. It is all about us now: de te fabala narratur!
For that very reason it is a life-and-death matter for Christian theology whether or not it is willing and able to submit to the critique of heaven and earth. When it speaks of history, the Bible speaks of “births”. “This is the history (Hebrew toledöth = births, generations) of heaven and earth, when they were created” (Genesis 2:4). John on Patmos surveys a new heaven and a new earth, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1). Its own past burdens Christian theology with the temptation to flee from the passing away of the first earth to the first heaven. It suits its convenience to overlook the fact that, along with the first earth, that first heaven is also passing away. Heaven and earth are created together: our earth has the heaven that befits it, that belongs to it. Heaven and earth stand in crisis together, “under critique” together. We are forbidden to take our flight from earth to heaven. The command to us, and the promise, is that we take the road to a new heaven and a new earth. On that road theology is subject to the critique of heaven and earth; for if it has no part in the “passing away” of pre-history, it will surely have lost the way to the new heaven and the new earth whose birth-pangs bear the name of “history”.