Schelling's political philosophy

Bruff, Kyla (2022) Schelling's political philosophy. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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In his commitment to the preservation of human freedom, Schelling repeatedly defends the existence of a minimal state, which he claims is necessary for freedom’s realization. But the state is not the apex of Schelling’s political philosophy. Schelling instead proposes that through the exercise of freedom, human beings can forge meaningful human relationships, which have the potential to form a ‘voluntary,’ or consensual, free community beyond the state. His political philosophy, therefore, concerns first and foremost the possibility of the free establishment of a just human community, which transcends the state. Schelling does not give a clear, coherent account of the final form of a free, voluntary community before 1831. However, he sporadically writes about the political throughout his entire career, from his earliest works of the 1790s onwards. In this dissertation, I reconstruct Schelling’s entire political philosophy. I argue that his commitment to individual freedom and, in 1809 and after, personhood and love, structures his moral philosophy in such a way that it necessitates his repeated postulation of a minimal state. However, this state is insufficient on its own to bring about a moral community. Schelling’s reflections on the state and the community are always couched in a shifting historical and political context, which I describe throughout. Schelling’s political trajectory is non-linear. I thus open this work by describing the exception to Schelling’s otherwise consistent separation of the minimal state from the voluntary, human community. This exception is the organic state as postulated in Schelling’s early Identity Philosophy (1801-1804). I argue that Schelling’s growing concern for the individual from 1804-1807 leads him to progressively move away from this organic state, in which freedom and necessity, community and the state, are unified. Instead, the community becomes the free endeavour of dynamic, developing individuals on the road to personhood. Before moving on to Schelling’s middle thought in Chapter 4, I backtrack to his earliest writings to unearth the roots of his post-1809 political philosophy. Accordingly, in Chapter 2, I give an account of Schelling’s first clear presentation of the state as the guarantor of freedom in his 1800 System of Transcendental Idealism. I situate this presentation of the state in the context of Schelling’s early philosophy of nature and freedom and show its role in the System’s philosophies of history and politics. Chapter 3 takes us even further back to an excavation of the romantic roots of Schelling’s political philosophy in his very young writings, from 1792-1797. ix Here, I show that Schelling’s experimental attempts to ascertain the relationship of the law—including state law—to a higher, free unity, particularly through aesthetics, were influenced by Rousseau, Kant, Schiller, especially during his time at the Tübinger Stift. I subsequently demonstrate how some of these early romantic insights come to fruition in Schelling’s moral and political philosophy in his work after 1809. Schelling’s accounts of personhood, love, and the development of virtues create the possibility of the establishment of a free, moral community beyond the state. This endeavour requires a division between the state as a legal order and the community, which consists of free relations, otherwise described by Schelling in the terminology of love. Once Schelling settles on this insight, he begins not only to critique the state (most famously and harshly in 1810), but also to describe it as a rational order which is an expression of a divine idea. This differs from his earlier presentations of the state as mechanical (1800) and organic (1801-1804). I show that this concept of the rational state is best comprehended when related to the promise of redemption and the reestablishment of the lost unity between humanity and God. This loss presents a gap which the state itself can never close. My fifth and final chapter offers a detailed presentation of Schelling’s final form of the human community, which he calls the “Church of St. John.” This is a community of the future, into which all will enter freely and in which knowledge and revelation are united. It is characterized by the total unity of the human community and the creative practice of a non-denominational, “philosophical religion”—a religion which does not yet exist. I conclude the dissertation with a summary of the role of necessity in Schelling’s different forms of the state (now understood as the ground of the free community) and in personality. I also offer a brief account of how we might read Schelling’s political philosophy today. Schelling’s political pessimism, I suggest, finds an affinity with the critical theory tradition, as his political philosophy involves a radical critique of the status quo and the possibility of a transformation of existing socio-political relations that relies on a notion of the transcendent.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 15508
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 214-228).
Keywords: political philosophy, Schelling, German Idealism, political theology, virtue ethics, eschatology, state, theory of the state, moral perfectionism, freedom, love, eschaton, church
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Philosophy
Date: May 2022
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von, 1775-1854; Political science--Philosophy; Idealism, German; Political theology; Eschatology; State, The.

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