Romanticism Spinozism and Pantheism

Pantheism is a third way. (Novalis)59

Because you can see no third alternative, and because you will not deify nature, you deify human consciousness. (Schleiermacher to Jacobi)60

The Romantics were not Spinozists in the sense that they carried out Spinoza's philosophy in its details. The content of Spinoza's thought inspired and guided them in four, very general, ways. His idea of God as immanent cause provided them with a new way of understanding the relation between God (the infinite) and the universe (finite existence); his realism helped them better account for the relation between the self and the world; his doctrine of the parallelism of thought and extension helped them get around the problem of subjectivism; his stoic determinism reminded them that the human person is inescapably a part of nature.

More important than the specifics of Spinoza's thought was Spinoza himself. Spinoza inspired the early German Romantics because for them he was the avatar of the very idea of the Romantic:

The piety of philosophers is theory, pure intuition of the divinity, calm and gay in silent solitude. Spinoza is the ideal of the species. The religious state of the poet is more passionate and more communicative.61

The high world spirit permeated him, the infinite was his beginning and end, the universe his only and eternal love; in holy innocence and deep humility he was reflected in the eternal world and saw how he too was its most lovable mirror; he was full of religion and full of holy spirit; for this reason, he also stands there alone and unequaled, master in his art but elevated above the profane guild, without disciples and without rights of citizenship.62

It is important to remember, however, that Spinoza did not occupy such a position alone. Alongside him were Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Cervantes, and Plato.

This returns us to the question that opened this essay. Granted that the Romantics found in Spinoza an exemplar of almost everything they themselves valued (and in a way that cannot be judged to be historically accurate of Spinoza's actual positions), were they therefore pantheists? This question is problematic because the Romantics, however much they invoked the name Spinoza, did not talk very much about pantheism. There was the passing reference and occasional enthusiastic flourish, but for the most part when they reflected on the term and discussed its meaning, it represented an extreme that needed to be brought back into a relation with its opposite, theism. As Novalis struggled to explain,

[T]rue religion seems once more to be antinomically divided - into pantheism and entheism. I am allowing myself some licence here - in that I am taking pantheism not in the usual sense - but understand by it the idea - that everything could be an instrument of the godhead - could be a mediator, through my raising it to be such - just as entheism on the contrary designates the belief that there is only one such instrument for us in the world, which alone befits the idea of a mediator, and through which alone God can be understood However incompatible the two seem to be, nonetheless their union can be effected ... so that each makes the other necessary, but in different ways.63

Whereas Neo-Spinozism helped them carve a third way, something altogether new, pantheism was understood as one polar element standing in relation to its opposite pole, theism; pantheism, however, was not atheism. For Schleiermacher, pantheism and personalism (theism) are types of representation, the two poles of a continuum of possible ways to conceive the divine. They are "only more general forms, whose realm is to be filled up first with what is individual and determinate."64 One side of the continuum, the theistic, is necessary to affirm what God is; the other side of the continuum, the pantheistic, is just as necessary to remember what God is not. Both "forms" stand over against atheism, which is the absence of any piety, any sense and taste for the infinite.

Therefore, although the Romantics wanted to defend the idea of pantheism, as well as those assumed to be pantheists, against crude accusations, they themselves were not pantheists. Rather than maintain the identity of God and world, they maintained a dynamic coincidence of opposites; they did not so much deny a personal God as challenge fixed and limited ideas of God; and they affirmed the divine transcendence, albeit in terms of divine immanence. In the third edition of his Speeches, written long after the Romantic circle had broken up, Novalis had died, and the friendship between Schlegel and Schleiermacher had suffered severe blows, Schleiermacher explained, "Novalis was cried down as an enthusiastic mystic by the prosaic, and Spinoza as godless by the literalists. It was incumbent upon me to protest against this view of Spinoza."65 Schleiermacher himself remained true to his own method of oscillation, moving necessarily between the two poles of pantheism and personalism. Piety required that he not stay fixed in any one conception of God, just as piety also required that neither pole be neglected.

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  • dirk
    How much was romanticism like pantheism?
    4 months ago

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