A forceful historical meditation on the issue raised by Nietzsche's madman, who asked (after proclaiming in The Gay Science...


THE POLITICS AT GOD'S FUNERAL: The Spiritual Crisis of Western Civilization

A forceful historical meditation on the issue raised by Nietzsche's madman, who asked (after proclaiming in The Gay Science that God was dead): ""What will we do as the earth is set loose from its sun?"" Although Harrington himself is an atheist, the God he writes about here is not the ultimate reality worshipped by Jews and Christians but the ""societal God of the Judeo-Christian West."" The God, that is, who legitimizes established authority (and, occasionally, prophetic revolt against it); who provides a foundation for ethical norms and a transcendent symbol of collective consciousness; who serves to motivate and judge the performance of individuals in capitalist culture; who guarantees ""personal, ethnic, and national identity,"" etc. Many liberal believers would agree with Harrington that this God has been a terminal case at least since the Enlightenment, and Harrington appeals to them to form a ""united front of believers and atheists in search of a common transcendental which is neither supernatural nor antisupernatural."" What this creative ""new consensus"" would achieve is not spelled out (some kind of democratic socialism, presumably), but Harrington lays down the basic guidelines: no laws without effective popular participation, no such participation without communitarianism, the spread of ""moral motivation based on solidarity,"" and the development of a trans-national human identity. All of this, both the diagnosis of the spiritual disease afflicting Western civilization and the proposed cure for it, amounts to a series of cliches; and Harrington frankly admits this. But he argues that these truisms are nonetheless vitally true and in need of defense, especially today when the ""risen God of sociology"" (the near-axiomatic assumption, passed down from Durkheim to Parsons to Bellah and beyond, that religion is an eternal given of human nature) threatens to obscure the slow but clearly documented and probably inevitable passing of faith as we know it. Harrington's Marxism is fervent but gentle and utterly reasonable. His many excursions into philosophy and theology, from Kant to Tillich, Bonhoeffer, and various contemporaries, are thought-provoking. His biggest problem, of course, is the still-elusive nature of his ""common transcendental."" Earnest lessons in the history of ideas for ""religiously musical"" leftists.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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