Friday, December 04, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XLVII

"Why do I date the Enlightenment, as a historical phenomenon, as beginning in 1648 and ending in 1789? 1648 marked the end of the Thirty Year's War and the Peace of Westphalia. This was the beginning of the secularization of the political; from this point onwards, religious claims were progressively withdrawn from the political and public spheres of society. This made possible the freethinking attitude of Thomas Jefferson, who said, ‘It does me no harm for my neighbor to say that there are many gods or that there are none.’”--Carlos, The Importance of History.

Carlos’ presentation of the Enlightenment gives us the first great secular European war as the last great European religious war.

If a secular war were any the less nasty or horrific than a religious war, if the character of the battle changed in accordance with what men believed they were fighting about, perhaps this change in European war would mark a kind of progress…A kind of progressive Enlightenment of men and mind.

If the secular wars happened to be bigger, faster, more brutal and increasingly empty and absurd--because no one but no one wants to pretend they are fought with meaning, passion, or even a serious political objective in mind-- what we are observing is not the unfettering of the mind from dogma, but the mind's abnegation.

I am not concerned with deciding what constitutes progress…I have the much more modest goal of determining when there is or has been change (or in other words, a motion.) Carlos, in the above-mentioned quote, may have wished to designate a historical period, but what I wish to know is whether the period Carlos designates can be said to correspond to philosophical activation.

If after the Thirty Year's War we see the mind's abnegation, we are probably wrong to associate this with philosophical activation.

I know that the Thirty Year’s War manifested as a struggle between Protestants and Catholics. The Pope, the Spanish and Austrian Hapsburgs and the Catholic princes of Germany rallied to the Catholic Church against the Protestant countries--Bohemia, Denmark, Sweden, the Dutch Republic, and a number of Protestant, reformation-influenced German states. However, I don’t know that the war was about the differences of belief between Protestants and Catholics—in fact, I doubt it very much. I would ask—which beliefs and then I would like to see how these were changed at the resolution of the war.

What I would especially like to know is why resolving whatever these beliefs were required so altering the political map of Europe—is it a funny thing about Christian beliefs in particular?

If the war was a dispute about beliefs between Protestants and Catholics, a progressive withdrawal of religious claims from the political and public spheres of society could plausibly have helped to end it and to prevent other wars about religious beliefs. But what if the Thirty Year’s War was about other antagonisms than the religious ones? These antagonisms would then not be diminished by the secularization of the political.


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