The crisis of historicism and Troeltsch's Europeanism
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||1995|
|Authors||Joanne Miyang Cho|
|Journal||History of European Ideas|
In this article, I will use the words ‘development’ [Entwicklung] and ‘continuity’ interchangeably. Troeltsch himself used the word ‘development’ but I will use ‘continuity’, for it expresses my ideas more clearly. Troeltsch listed his major works in the philosophy of history during the Heidelberg years in ‘Über Maßstäbe zur Beurteilung historischer Dinge’ (see footnote 1, p. 6, Historische Zeitschrift, vol. 120 (1916). Perhaps the most important theoretical work in this field was ‘Modern Philosophy of History’. This article first appeared in Theologische Rundschau VI (1904) and later was republished in his G.S. II: 673-728. Troeltsch's other pre-war writings were ‘Geschichte und Metaphysik’ (1895), Die Absolutheit des Christentums und die Religionsgeschichte (1902), ‘Begriff eines Wesens des Christentums’ (1903), and ‘Begriff der Kontingenz’ (1910). His first work on the philosophy of history during his Berlin years was ‘Über Maßstäbe zur Beurteilung historische Dinge’ (see endnote no. 4, pp. 1-47). But his most important work was Historismus und seine Probleme (1923), which extended his ideas in his 1916 article. In the same year, Troeltsch published ‘Die Krisis des Historismus’ (Die Neue Rundschau, vol. 33, Part I, 572-590 ‘Die Geisteswissenschaften und der Streit um Rickert’ (
Schmollers Jahrbuch, vol. 46, Part I, pp. 35-64), ‘Die “deutsche historische Schule”’ ( Die Dioskuren: Jahrbuch für Geisteswissenschaften, vol. 1, pp. 178-208). His posthumously published lecture series, Christian Thought: Its History and Application, also showed his serious efforts to overcome relativism. This book's German title, Historismus und seine Überwindung, was misleading, for it exuded too much confidence. Instead of overcoming relativism, Troeltsch pleaded for the principle of compromise. He intended to make his definitive work on the philosophy of history a two-volume work, consisting of the formal logic of history and the material philosophy of history, but he died while writing the second volume. The importance of Dilthey for Troeltsch's philosophy of history was unfortunately not given sufficient attention by most historians. Historians viewed his historical thinking as too rational. For example, Iggers's discussion on Troeltsch's philosophy of history did not discuss his relationship to Dilthey and devoted his whole discussion to Troeltsch's relationship to the Neo-Kantians, especially to Rickert. See Georg Iggers, The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present, Rev. ed. (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1983). See for more details on the Dilthey and Rickert controversy Rudolf A. Makkreel, Dilthey: Philosopher of the Human Studies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 39-44; Michael Ermarth, Wilhelm Dilthey, pp. 186-197. Troeltsch, however, became a little more open to Dilthey in his Berlin years, as he became increasingly impressed by the principle of individuality. He carved his niche in the spirit of compromise: his own solution, immanent criticism, was refined through Dilthey's analogy and Rickert's standard. If it were used, ‘humanity’ in the twentieth century could be used only to mean ‘a mutual understanding and tolerance, and a feeling of fundamental human obligation, without any very definite content’. Troeltsch, Christian Thought, p. 121. Troeltsch, G.S. III: 725, 727. Troeltsch used ‘Europäismus’ and ‘Europäertum’ interchangeably. Troeltsch, however, criticised Weber for turning to positivism. ‘Weber limits all historical research strictly to the formation of rows of causality and makes no difference here between natural causality and historical causality.’ Ibid., p. 569. Against Troeltsch, H. Herring argued that Weber was ‘a critical idealist’; cf. ‘Max Weber und Ernst Troeltsch als Geschichtsdenker’, Kant-Studien, vol. 59, no. 4 (1968), p. 433. Since he wrote The Absoluteness of Christianity (1902), Troeltsch had ‘increasingly viewed religion as an expression and a part of the total culture’. See Iggers, The German Conception of History, p. 188. Whereas his Essence (1903) sought to shape the new essence of Christianity for the future, his later idea sought to shape a new European culture and spirit for the future. Toshimasa Yasukata, Ernst Troeltsch, p. 144. Troeltsch considered only a few world religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, Buddhism and Hinduism, but did not consider smaller religions for fear of being exposed to excessive relativism. Troeltsch criticised naive absoluteness for its lack of historical understanding, but he accepted it as a normal and harmless expression of religions at their birth. However, he pilloried artificial absoluteness, which was produced by doctrines and scholarships. The latter, begun by St. Paul and practiced in the nineteenth century by Hegel, Schleiermacher and Ritschl, was, unlike naive absoluteness, intentional and thus problematic. Troeltsch, Christian Thought, pp. 21-22. These were lectures written for delivery in England during March 1923, but Troeltsch died shortly before then. For example, the fast Christianisation of South Korea after the Korean War will show how a non-Western civilisation could also adopt Westernised Christianity. There are nine other corollary categories. They were: (1) originality and uniqueness; (2) narrow selections; (3) representation; (4) unity of value or meaning; (5) tension between the common spirit and individual spirits; (6) the unconscious; (7) the creative; (8) freedom; and (9) chance. Hintze, ‘Troeltsch and Historicism’, pp. 417-418. In contrast to Troeltsch, Hintze pointed out that ‘the many peoples and civilisations of the world are gradually becoming one, and Europe and America are leading the way in this process of unification’. Ibid., p. 407. For people in tribal heathenism, Troeltsch still recommended ‘a missionary duty’, which would likely succeed, as has indeed happened in Africa. Troeltsch, Christian Thought, p. 26.