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Johann Georg Hamann and the Enlightenment Project

Johann Georg Hamann and the Enlightenment Project

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Johann Georg Hamann and the Enlightenment Project
    Book Description:

    Johann Georg Hamann and the Enlightenment Projectaddresses Hamann's oeuvre from the perspective of political philosophy, focusing on his views concerning the public use of reason, social contract theory, autonomy, aesthetic morality and the politics of 'taste,' and the technocratic ideal of enlightened despotism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9035-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. A Note on Citation
    (pp. xxi-xxii)

    • 1 Introduction: The Enlightenment as a Historical Movement and Political Project
      (pp. 3-24)

      Nearly all monographs on Hamann deal with the question of his relationship to the Enlightenment. Isaiah Berlin begins his brief work with the boldest formulation: Hamann was ‘the most passionate, consistent, extreme and implacable enemy of Enlightenment … of his time.’¹ Oswald Bayer, the world’s leading Hamannite, has written a book making the apparently opposite claim that Hamann was a ‘radical enlightener.’² James O’Flaherty has apparently taken a conciliatory position of making Hamann part critic and part participant in the Age of Reason.³ With such manifest disagreement, talk of Enlightenment might well be subject to the Hobbesian charge of ‘insignificant...

    • 2 Transfiguring the Enlightenment: Hamann and the Problem of Public Reason
      (pp. 25-54)

      Johann Georg Hamann presents us with a puzzle. His writing is dense, unsystematic, and overly allusive. It demands an extensive knowledge of numerous authors, from ancient poets to the Old Testament prophets, to alchemists, theologians, and numerous obscure pamphleteers. Hamann often made allusions to minor events in his life – things that could have been known to only a small number of people. Yet he published these obscure pieces, presumably expecting a relatively wide audience. What is the meaning of this curious relationship with the public? Why did he bellow from the shadows? One might posit that he veiled his meaning...


    • 3 Critique and Metacritique: Kant and Hamann
      (pp. 57-75)

      Among Hamann’s more famous writings is his brief and dense attack upon Kant’sCritique of Pure Reason. Hamann was probably the first serious reader of Kant’s firstCritique– he obtained an advance copy from the publisher and wrote several responses to the piece, the last and most satisfying of which is theMetakritik über den Purismum der Vernunft. His neologismMetacritiqueis apt: Hamann was not concerned with a detailed study of Kant’s argument. On the contrary, like most of Kant’s contemporaries, he felt overwhelmed by the work. Hamann’s metacritique is a critique of Kant’s fundamental premises. It attempts to...

    • 4 Varieties of Copernican Turn
      (pp. 76-84)

      Both Kant and Hamann shared a sceptic’s desire to look into the foundations of philosophical claims. Kant did so in a way that saved philosophy and metaphysics (although of a more modest kind); Hamann did so in a way that returned philosophy to its role as handmaid to theology. In so doing, he condemned philosophical terminology, privileging ordinary language. Hamann can be considered a theologian insofar as his thought deals with God’s Logos; as far as dogma is concerned, we have seen that he was entirely unprepared to take faith as a matter of dogmatic statements, which run the same...

    • 5 The Ideas of God and the Person
      (pp. 85-102)

      For the purposes of political thought, Kant is most stimulating for his positive doctrines. TheKrVis largely a negative book – one intent on limiting and separating the faculties such that they do not overstep their bounds. However, the purpose of this procedure is to overcome the sceptical objections to the most concerned matters of metaphysical inquiry: ‘God, freedom, and immortality.’¹ These are what Kant terms ‘Ideas,’ and they are of supremepracticalimportance. In political philosophy, freedom and its related concepts of personality and autonomy are perhaps the most persistent Kantian ideas, the stock and trade of many who...


    • 6 Leviathan and Jerusalem: Rights and ‘the Laws of Wisdom and Goodness’
      (pp. 105-120)

      On the surface of things, it’s hard to see quite what all the fuss was about in the debate between Johann Georg Hamann and Moses Mendelssohn over the role of the state in the religious lives of its citizens. Both believed that the state ought not to force faith upon its citizens and both abhorred intolerance. In addition, both found serious weaknesses in the Hobbesian doctrine of natural rights. It is not surprising, then, that Hamann’s early reception of Mendelssohn’sJerusalem oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum(1783) was, if not fully laudatory, not entirely negative: ‘The more I read...

    • 7 Faith, Inside and Out: Convictions versus Actions, Eternity versus History
      (pp. 121-138)

      Hamann’s accusation that Mendelssohn was a Hobbist appears most bizarre when we considerJerusalem’s argument about the correct relationship between church and state. If there was one thing that Mendelssohn clearly opposed it was the Erastianism ofLeviathan. Church and state were essentially distinct; people must be free to worship in any manner they think acceptable to God. A comprehensive toleration based on the separation of political and ecclesiastical realms was Mendelssohn’s project.

      But this argument for the separation of realms had several pillars that would have been perfectly acceptable to the philosopher of Malmesbury. First, Mendelssohn separated internal conviction...

    • 8 Language and Society
      (pp. 139-156)

      If Mendelssohn was going to insist on the necessity of maintaining Jewish personal laws, he needed to give a rational justification for their continued relevance. What use were these curious practices if the truths necessary for salvation were attainable with reason alone? How could an independent, rational agent submit himself to external rules and the authority of rabbis? Mendelssohn’s answer to these questions was an ingenious reconciliation of Enlightenment rationalism and a theoretical defence of tradition.

      Mendelssohn’s defence of tradition is brilliantly paradoxical, making use of tools normally employed by those seeking to undermine tradition. What is most striking is...


    • 9 The Language of Enlightenment and the Practice of Despotism: J.G. Hamann’s Polemics against Frederick the Great
      (pp. 159-192)

      Any study of politics in Hamann’s thought must necessarily take account of his direct forays into the political life of his state. Hamann penned a series of remarkably sharp attacks on his monarch. It is perhaps surprising (although it ought not to be) to see a thinker with such a conservative frame of mind express himself in so radically anti-authoritarian a manner. Looking at Hamann’s anti-Frederickian salvoes helps free us of habitual connotations opposing radicalism and conservatism.

      Hamann’s charge that Enlightenment philosophers veiled their desire for personal power in the garb of impersonal reason was the opening volley in a...


    • 10 Aesthetic, All Too Aesthetic: Hamann on the Battle between Poetry and Philosophy
      (pp. 195-223)

      We have seen in this study that Hamann described poetry as the mother tongue of the human race, that he deprecated philosophy in the name of poetic wisdom, and that he celebrated the senses and the sentiments over reason’s abstract concepts. It is not difficult to see why Rudolf Unger spoke of his influence on the spirit of romanticism.¹ We might even be tempted to see Nietzschean aesthetic morality here; or at the very least, we might be inclined to read in this a thorough overturning of Plato on the poets. Isaiah Berlin helps us along in this view, insisting...

    • 11 Conclusion
      (pp. 224-232)

      We have followed Hamann somewhat closely, elucidating his political thought and paying particular attention to the importance of his insistence on the communicative – and thus social – nature of human beings, the resuscitation of myth, the importance of the affective and aesthetic elements in cognition, and the temporal access to meaning. We have discussed the limitations of public reason as a final locus for normative justification. We have also seen the way in which Hamann’s historicization of thought remained anchored in a transcendent divinity, and we noted the distinct moral possibilities in his reconciliation of history and eternity. But we left...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 233-324)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-336)
  13. Index
    (pp. 337-341)