Nihilism and modernity: political response in a godless age

Glassford, John (1999). Nihilism and modernity: political response in a godless age. PhD thesis The Open University.



In this thesis I argue that following Hegel's commitment to both political philosophy and political theory, Max Stirner, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche take flight from doing political theory in the 'Western' tradition. I demonstrate that Stirner, Marx and Nietzsche all use their own respective notions of political philosophy to criticise the very idea of doing political theory per . re. The evidence for this is to be found in both their refusal to do political theory and in their notions of prophetic agency. I further argue that this development is bound-up with their particular responses to the post-Hegelian milieu of which they were a part. As such, Stirner, Marx and Nietzsche all subscribed to a novel form of secularised eschatology. Although there have been studies of this secularisation thesis before, most notably by Karl Löwith, and groundbreaking though this study is, it is related to the difficult period in which in was written (the 1930's and 40's). Löwith for example, is concerned with the impact that eschatological thought has on the formation of totalitarian regimes more generally. As a result, such studies, which might encapsulate Hegel's own thought, are often rejected as but a species of the kind of eschatological literature which are also held to be necessarily repressive. However, in this thesis I point to an important cleavage between Hegel and his followers: Hegel, despite his eschatological outlook, remains firmly tied to the traditional 'Western' canon in so far as we see his commitment and application to doing political theory, whether descriptive or normative, and as such it is also demonstrably supported by his own political philosophy. Whereas in the case of Stirner, Marx and Nietzsche, their own eschatological projects respectively, are used as weapons in the war against political theory. I demonstrate that this historic cleavage occurs because Stirner, Marx and Nietzsche read eschatology as primarily prophetic and forward looking while Hegel's own eschatology remains ex events. The former look to legitimating particular historical agencies of change while Hegel continues to regard the potential multiplicity's of all political agency from within the most promising liberal institutions of modern society.

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