Spirit and Utopia: (German) Idealism as Political Theology

Crisis and Critique 2 (1):326-348 (2015)
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Can we understand (German) idealism as emancipatory today, after the new realist critique? In this paper, I argue that we can do so by identifying a political theology of revolution and utopia at the theoretical heart of German Idealism. First, idealism implies a certain revolutionary event at its foundation. Kant’s Copernicanism is ingrained, methodologically and ontologically, into the idealist system itself. Secondly, this revolutionary origin remains a “non-place” for the idealist system, which thereby receives a utopian character. I define the utopian as the ideal gap, produced by and from within the real, between the non-place of the real as origin and its reduplication as the non-place of knowledge’s closure, as well as the impulse, inherent in idealism, to attempt to close that gap and fully replace the old with the new. Based on this definition, I outline how the utopian functions in Kant, Fichte and Hegel. Furthermore, I suggest that idealism may be seen as a political-theological offshoot of realism, via the objective creation of a revolutionary condition. The origin of the ideal remains in the real, maintaining the utopian gap and the essentially critical character of idealism, both at the level of theory and as social critique.
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