mardi, décembre 24, 2013

Dooyeweerd: The three transcendental problems of a theoretical total view of human society

Meiningen from Hasliberg Reuti, Switzerland (photo F. MacFhionnlaigh)
The three transcendental problems of a theoretical total view of human society by Herman Dooyeweerd.

     For the present we must restrict ourselves to an elucidation of the transcendental problems involved in a theoretical total view of human society. We may formulate them as follows: 

1. Where is the basic denominator to be found needed for a comparison of the different types of societal relationships, set apart and opposed to one another in the antithetic Gegenstand-relation of theoretical thought?
2. How is their mutual relation and coherence to be viewed?
3. Where do they find their radical unity and totality of meaning, or in other words, from which starting-point can we grasp them in the theoretical view of totality?
     Our general transcendental critique of theoretical thought has brought to light that the philosophical immanence-standpoint can only result in absolutizations of specific modal aspects of human experience. Similarly we may establish that on this standpoint every total view of human society is bound to absolutizations both of specific modal aspects and of specific types of individual totality. This will appear from our following structural analysis.
     From the Christian transcendence-standpoint the radical unity and meaning-totality of all temporal societal structures of individuality is only to be found in the central religious community of mankind in its creation, fall and redemption by Jesus Christ. This starting-point excludes in principle every universalist sociological view, which seeks the unity and all-embracing totality of all types of societal relationships in a temporal community of mankind. Neither a nation, nor the Church in the sense of a temporal institution, nor the State, nor an international union of whatever typical character, can be the all-inclusive totality of human social life, because mankind in its spiritual root transcends the temporal order with its diversity of social structures.
     This was the firm starting-point from which Christianity by the spiritual power of its divine Master broke through the pagan totalitarian view of the Roman empire, and cleared the way for a veritable and salutary revolution of the social worldview. The radical meaning of this Christian revolution would be frustrated by identifying it with the Stoic idea of mankind as a temporal community of all-inclusive character. It is true that the natural law doctrine of HUGO GROTIUS used this Stoic idea as a foundation for international law and that this idea broke through the classical Greek absolutization of the polis. But it could never become the starting-point for a social worldview which hits any absolutization of temporal societal life at its roots. It could not clear the way for a theoretical examination of the basic structures of individuality determining the inner nature of the different types of societal relationships.
     It is only from the Biblical Christian transcendence-standpoint that the three transcendental basic problems formulated above can be solved in a way which precludes absolutizations. The basic denominator for a theoretical comparison of the different structural types of human society can here only be the temporal world-order rooted in the divine order of creation. The mutual relation between the social structures of individuality is only to be viewed as that of an inner sovereignty of each structure within its own orbit, balanced by its coherence with the other structures in cosmic time; the latter guarantees enkaptic external functions of any particular social relationship in all the others, insofar as their different structural principles are realized.
     And this theoretical total view is only possible from the starting-point that the different societal structures of individuality find their radical unity and meaning-totality beyond cosmic time in the central religious community of mankind.
     It is indeed our transcendental basic Idea in its application to the theoretical total-view of the societal structures of individuality which gives this solution to the three transcendental problems formulated above.

The principle of structural sovereignty of every type of societal relationship within its own inner orbit, and the undifferentiated societies.
     But when we try to apply this Idea to the factual societal relationships realized in the different phases of the evolution of human social life, there seems to arise a serious difficulty.
     At first sight it might appear that this Idea presupposes a differentiated condition of human society which, as explained in Vol. II, is dependent upon the opening-process of its historical or cultural aspect. How then can we apply it to primitive or undifferentiated societies? Does not it appear from this difficulty that our whole view concerning the validity of constant structural principles for the factual societal relationships is at best of an ideal-normative character, and should be eliminated from any explanation of society as it factually is?
     I think this conclusion would be quite premature. When we establish that a matrimonial community, a State, a Church, etc. have a constant inner nature, determined by their internal structural principles, we do not mean that all of these societal structures of individuality have been realized in every phase of development of mankind. We only mean that the inner nature of these types of societal relationships cannot be dependent on variable historical conditions of human society. This is to say, as soon as they are realized in a factual human society, they appear to be bound to their structural principles without which we could not have any social experience of them. We shall see presently that this does not detract anything from the great variability of the social forms in which they are realized.
     As to undifferentiated societies, this implies that their types of societal relationship also have structural principles, determining their inner nature, and differing fundamentally from those of differentiated types.
     This view is doubtless ruled by the Biblical Idea of divine creation of all things after their proper nature. But it is again and again confirmed by the social facts themselves.
     The inner nature of a matrimonial bond urges itself upon man because it is not his own creation. Doubtless the factual matrimonial relationship between a man and a wife may be bad enough. Man and wife may break the marriage bond. But it is impossible to make such a factual behaviour into a social norm, because it contradicts the very nature of a matrimonial relation and the latter is a fundamental institution of every human society. The bolshevist authorities were obliged to capitulate to the "logic of the social facts" when they saw that the communist doctrine of marriage as a free companionship, dissoluble at any moment by the will of each of the parties, in its practice led to a fundamental disintegration of the Russian society.
     In the same way the inner nature of a State, of a university, of a Church, of an industrial enterprise, or, in an undifferentiated society, of a sib, a tribe, or a guild, cannot be identified with the variable and changing factual relationships in which their internal structural types are realized. The latter urge themselves upon man and cannot be transformed by him. This is why the real structural principles of human society can never be replaced by constructed "ideal types", in the sense of MAX WEBER.
     The only reserve to be made with respect to the application of our transcendental Idea of social totality to undifferentiated societies, is that the societal basic principle of the sovereignty of each structural type within its own inner orbit cannot be applied to the mutual relation of undifferentiated types which appear to have the same inner nature. But this does not detract from the universal validity of this principle as such, which only refers to the relation of structural types of a different radical or geno-type.

The difference between the transcendental structural principles of human society and the subjective socio-political principles (maxims).
     The typical structural principles to which the social forms give a positive shape should be sharply distinguished from the subjective socio-political principles. The latter are results of human reflection on the fundamentals of human society and the maxims of their concrete formation in accordance with a particular cultural-historical situation. In this sense one speaks of liberal, socialistic, fascistic, communistic, Roman Catholic, Calvinistic, etc. principles for societal life. These subjective social principles are always to be tested to the normative structural principles founded in the temporal divine world-order, which determine the inner nature of the different societal relationships and the mutual relations between the latter.
     It is undeniable that the process of formation of human society is influenced to a high degree by the subjective social principles which have acquired a socio-cultural control over the majority of the members of a cultural community. But it would be incorrect to overestimate their role. Subjective social principles may contradict the essential structural principles of human society founded in the divine world-order. The latter is the order of reality, which can never be set aside, without destructive consequences for human societal life. This is also the reason why veritable positive structural norms are constitutive for the factual societal relationships. They are not merely "ideal" standards for valuating the latter, but really give a positive form to their inner nature. It is true that this formation can occur in a better or worse way in proportion to its being guided by better or worse subjective social principles. But apart from the typical structural principles which determine the inner nature of the different societal relationships, there can be no question of real positive societal norms. 
(Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol 3 pp 168-173)