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Tillich, Paul. The Socialist Decision. Translated by Franklin Sherman.

New York:
Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977.

Main point: The socialist principle, symbolized as “expectation,” resolves the conflicts
internal to socialism, that is, in belief, economics, culture, and politics, while
overcoming the contradictions inherent in political conservatism, romanticism, and
liberal democracy. But the fact that this socialist principle offers the clearest grounds
for rational human hope does not necessitate its triumph in the concrete historical

Structure of the argument:

There are two roots of political thought (the orientation to the origin, root of
conservatism and romanticism; the orientation to the unconditional demand, future,
the root of liberalism, democratism, and socialism); tension between these two things,
and fundamental tension of human being/consciousness. The unconditional demand
is superior to, as the ultimate fulfillment of, origin, and justice as fulfillment of power of
being is superior to mere power of being. [This conditions the ultimate superiority of
the socialist principle.]

Examining this requires knowledge, the product of “relationship to being but also
distance from it.” (8) The argument will turn on the concept of “principle,” “the
summarizing characterization of a political group,” (9) something like an essence, but
dynamic; “A concept is dynamic if it contains the possibilityof making understandable
new and unexpected realizations of a historical origin.” (9) It’s not merely an
abstraction because “it always stands in a critical and judging relation to its reality . . .
there can be no contradiction between essence and appearance, but there can be a
contradiction between principle and realization.” (9) This means the understanding of a
principle is grasped in a decision, from the standpoint of which one understands, and
also criticizes, rather than from simply abstracting from instances. [so, hermeneutics is
involved . . . something he doesn’t quite say] “A principle is the power of a historical
reality, grasped in concepts.” (10)

Political romanticism hearkens back to the powers of origin, taking them as mystical,
elevating pure being and the holiness of being (17); priests guard the sacred sources of
origin; this attachment to powers of origin can be broken, as it is in Judaic prophetism,
which elevates an ought over the “is” of the promised land, the people, etc – faces the
people with an unconditional demand; and as it is in the Enlightenment, with the
insistence on automony which breaks myths of origin and their claims. (liberates
people from ties to place, group . . .) political romanticism “the countermovement to
prophetism and the Enlightenment on the basis of a spiritual and social /situation that
is determined by prophetism and the Enlightenment.” (25-6) This means political
romanticism has to fight on the terrain and with the weapons of movements it attacks
and doesn’t really respect. this introduces a genuine contradiction.

Discusses forms of political romanticism. conservative and revolutionary. aim to

return to powers of origin. “The attempt to make tradition out of literary remembrances
is the true mark of romanticism, on account of which it is called romanticism; and this
is also the clearest expression of its inner contradiction.” (33) “All the more important,
therefore, is the attempt to preserve or to revivify the religious tradition.” (34) includes
some analysis of the cultural expression of political romanticism, the use of symbols,
and the importance of the split between subject and object that determines the
impossibility of epic and the predominance of the novel; the importance of lyric poetry
and the cult of Stefan George. “Science and poetry, united in revolutionary criticism
and apocalyptic hope: this is the cultural form of expression of revolutionary
romanticism. It is a political weapon of considerable, even if transient, effect.” (41)
The bourgeois principle is oriented toward the future, enacting a double break with
origin, through Jewish Christian prophetism and Enlightenment reason; bourgeois
society “viewed from the standpoint of universal history, is an attack on the myth of
origin and the bond of origin everywhere on earth.” (47) It dissolves all pre-existing
bonds and subjects them to the power of reason. However, it also posits a kind of
natural harmony as the resultant of this universal reason, which in particular
proletarian experience shows to be falsified; society is not in harmony, the economy
does not run as smoothly and harmoniously (and certainly not justly) as the bourgeois
ideology would have it. (48-9) He has a great analysis of the critical character of this
belief in harmony on p. 51. Without it, the bourgeois principle collapses into a belief in
miracles, or has to fall back on pre-bourgeois powers of origin to secure social cohesion.
The bourgeois principle is, however, incomplete in itself. “The bourgeois principle is a
dynamic, formative principle, not a statis, supportive one. . . . It presupposes what has
been created, and makes use of it for its own purposes.” (54) [in essence, bourgeois
reality is parasitic on pre-bourgeois formations, in this analysis; and, it recognizes this,
and so appropriates things like religion, nationalism, historicism, idealism, seeking
worlds of meaning, while articulating them with the world of reason; the split between
conscious and subsconcious/irrational ‘parts’ or ‘sides’ of humanity springs from the
same source; these are not radical critiques of the bourgeois principle 55-6]

The class struggle radicalizes and shatters the bourgeois principle. “In the face of the
split between classes, the democratic belief in harmony as held by the bourgeoisie is
shattered; in the face of bourgeois class rule, the (59) democratic belief in harmony as
held by socialism collapses.” (60) The symbolic concept of the dictatorship of the
proletariat represents the affirmation of earlier powers of origin to bring about that
social harmony/unity. From here T. turns to an analysis of socialism, to uncover its
principle, in an effort to see whether socialism can overcome the contradictions of the
bourgeois principle while also, in some real sense, fulfilling its promise, which seems to
be the requirement for socialism.

This leads to an analysis of socialist conflicts. Conflict is not contradiction” (66)

contradiction has a subjective element and requires abandonment of the contradictory;
conflict is rooted in the situation and requires overcoming. So, there’s a conflict of
proletarian existence, in that the proletariat is assigned an object status in bourgeois
society, but socialism exists, which presupposes the subjective existence of this class,
which implies powers of origin, but the proletariat is compelled to deny these powers to
combat bourgeois society, so here’s a conflict built into the situation itself. “A reversal
of this tragedy is only possible of the proletariat is led to an awareness of its situation
and makes a clear decision for the powers of origin, while rejecting the forces of origin
that have become bourgeois, together with the bourgeois principle itself. This,
basically, is the ‘socialist decision’ that is demanded of German socialism.” (68)

Then discusses
conflicted belief (expectation of a coming harmonious world, but not a continuation or
slow progress from the present; “a leap that can in no way be explained in terms of
present reality.” (69) something new); *** an element of prophetic proclamation;
“formulates this expectation in a way that is completely defined by the bourgeois
principle, i.e., as a purely immanent expectation.” (69) forced to do this to
counteract the bourgeois tendency to cast expectation as entirely transcendent.
“The constantly recurring alternation of hope and disappointment, of utopianism
and unavoidable compromise, that fills the history of socialism, is the consequence
of this inner conflict.” (69)
conflicted view of human nature (perfectible, formed by consciousness, but changeable;
how? “there is nothing to mediate the leap from unreason to reason. Between
reality and expectation lies an abyss.” (73) n.b. this is one of Adorno’s problems!!
further consequences of the conflict include underestimation of the charismatic (74)
and the “dearth of impressive symbols” (74));
conflicted concept of society (counting on the emergence of a harmonious, unified
society, but without the aid of a bourgeois belief in harmony, so needing the activity
of power (76), but ultimately requiring the renunciation of power, which no one can
quite imagine; one consequence an ambivalence towards the state (77))
conflicted idea of attitude toward culture (79-85); “Socialism is religious if religion
means living out of the roots of human being.” (79) But socialism tries to leave lots
of cultural elements privatized; socialism makes an object of almost religious faith
out of science, which is fundamentally insupportable (81-2); it can’t affirm classical
humanism as an expression of essential universal humanity independent of
particular situation (84), but it doesn’t have much cultural expression of its own to
offer, as it is so estranged from any powers of origin, so it’s in the sad position of
foisting others’ high culture off on the proletariat (85);
conflicted idea of community (85-89) – dissolution of communal bonds far advanced,
obliged to view all communal bonds with suspicion as tools of class domination, but
required to “propose a form of community in contrast to that which is
disintegrating.” (87) – can’t fall back on a faith in some natural harmony; ends up in
alliance with pre-bourgeois powers; “Thus every way out appears to be cut off, in
this respect as with the other antinomies of socialism.” (89) ***
conflicted idea of economics (89-91); must both affirm and deny the efficiency of the
rational market

So: proposes a socialist principle that transcends the present conflict, resolves these
conflicts, and makes something new possible; he’ll argue that socialism unites powers
of origin, present in the proletariat, with the unconditional demand (proletariat as
prophetic subject, in essence) – so “Socialism is grounded in the interaction of three
elements: the power of the/ origin, the shattering of the belief in harmony, and an
emphasis on the demand.” (100-1) Yes to presupposition of romanticism in powers of
origin; yes to presupposition of bourgeois principle, breaking of powers of origin by
unconditional demand; no to bourgeois metaphysical principle of harmony; the symbol
of “expectation” (101) “Socialism is prophetism on the soil of an autonomous, self-
sufficient world.” (101) “No one really understands socialism who ignores its
prophetic character.” (101)

“Expectation is tension with a forward aim. Expectation directs itself towards what is
not now, but shall be, towards something unconditionally new that has never been but
is in the making. The fulfillment of being is not to be found in the unfolding of the
origin between birth and death. The ambiguity of the origin makes this impossible.
There are no eternal laws that regulate all social existence, laws such as political
romanticism would use to justify itself theologically. Humanity is a new possibility vis-
à-vis nature. . . . History is tension towards that which is to come; concretely, towards
the new order of things. the prophet awaits it; socialism strains towards it, regardless
of how this straining may be expressed rationally. History, in each of its moments,
points beyond itself. Only in this way can history be seen as history, as tension
towards the unconditionally new.” (102) Expectation is also the attitude of primitive
Christianity. taming Christianity for conservatism involves suppressing longing for
redemption into individualism, other-worldliness. (103) “In contrast to this theological
justification of ppolitical romanticism, socialism places itself decisively on the side of
expectation.” (103)

Not utopian (103) “Fulfillment is not a merely empirical concept. If it is so interpreted,

utopianism necessarily results, and with it that disappointment on which all objective
final expectations come to ruin.” (103) Socialism is “a nonobjectivied expectation (‘The
new breaks into the old’)” (104)

That which is expected is that which will come, so as such not dependent on human
activity, but also that which should come, as such, something that must come through
human activity. (104) “What is proclaimed is the demanding will of God – not in the
sense of a universal, timeless morality, but in the context of concrete, contemporary
events. The prophet, from first to last, is linked with a unique situation, a situation
that never recurs in precisely the same manner. It presses for a fulfillment that is
unique. The prophetic demand concerns that toward which reality itself faces, that
toward which a particular event is leading, that which is indicated by a certain
constellation of factors, that which can be achieved – but can also fail of achievement.
This intepenetration /(104) of demand and promise characterizes all prophetic
expectation. It is normative also for socialist expectation and identifies it unequivocally
as prophetic.” (105) [There’s a note right at this point; here’s the note: “The concept of
the prophetic that we are using here preserves the essential structure of Old Testament
prophecy in its most significant aspects. It is surprising with what similarity this
structure is repeated throughout history wherever the attitude of expectation is
normative. The so-called ‘false prophets’ also appear regularly. This means not
someone whose predictions don’t come true, but rather someone who preaches ‘peace,
peace,’ when there is no peace.” [translator’s note: Jeremiah 6:14, but the word “heil”
here translated as peace, maybe an oblique reference to the greetings current in Nazi
Germany] for example, in an origin-related group that expects to achieve stability and
power by avoiding the demand for justice. The proclaimers of an unqualified nationalism
fall into the category of ‘false prophets.’” (note 4 to Part 3, The Principle of Socialism and
the Solution of its Inner Conflict, pp 173-4)

Thus, waiting is not passive, but active. The demand for equality reflects the equality of
all before the unconditional demand articulated in the prophetic proclamation. Here is
the meaning of the fulfillment of being in the diminution of individual power: it’s
against the suppression of the poor, for instance; and also against the false glorification
of poverty, subservience. (106)

Origin and expectation are united (106); the expectation somehow fulfills the origin
(107); “The demand cannot move life if life itself is not moving in the direction of that
which is demanded. A socialism of mere moralistic demand creates utopias, and is
impotent against the actual forces of society.” (107) Here brings up the symbol of
providence, confidence that what is is not ultimately separated from what ought, what
is coming. (108) Hegel’s philosophy of history moves in the same direction, but “Hegel
spoiled his own concept by identifying a particular form of being as the tangible
fulfillment of being.” (108), which exempted these forms from the unconditional
demand, so lost the “ought” in the “is”, and conservative romanticism triumphed. Marx
resurrected the authentic prophetic element of socialism. (109)

Socialism’s prophetic character on the terrain of rationality is its peril, and its
profundity. (109) “Prophetic expectation is transcendent; rational expectation is
immanent.” (110) “Prophetic expectation acknowledges factors in human life that are in
principle incomprehensible; rational expectation, only factors that have not as yet been
comprehended.” (110)
There’s a tension between the transcendence of the expected world, its new quality, and
its continuity/ rationally, with what now is, its immanent quality, “but the tention is
not an opposition” (110). “Human expectation is always transcendent and immanent at
the same time. More precisely, this opposition does not exist for expectation.” (110)
Here, he lays out the essential lack of opposition in authentic expectation
between transcendence and immanence!! This is vital for the “utopianism”
of all my thinkers (Adorno, Irigaray, Agamben); something immanent that
is leading to something utterly transformed; something transcendent that
can nevertheless be glimpsed in the categories of the present . . .

“Both prophetic and socialist expectation are a witness of life to its fundamental
openness. they are a protest of life against false concepts of transcendence that
inevitably call forth, in opposition, false concepts of immanence.” (111) re

“The tension between the prophetic and the rational elements in socialism is not
a contradiction, but rather a genuine expression of a living expectation; it is that
which constitutes its essence.” (112)

Then follows some analysis of Marx’s contribution to the analysis of socialism and its
requirements, which does not seem as suited to my purposes, no doubt brilliant, and
finally a demonstration of the way the socialist principle resolves the contradictions in

In the analysis of Marx, here’s this quote, re historical dialectic, making the point that
everything that happens has to go through human action: “. . . the fulfillment of being
is not dependent on human arbitrariness. It is the inner meaning and the aim of every
particular historical process. It is the impulse of history in each of its moments. again,
this does not mean, however, that history can be viewed as an objective process that
will inevitably reach its goal, a goal which thus would be locatable in time and space.
that is utopianism, and such an interpretation of history is utopian in all its parts. the
impulse of history cannot be converted into a succession of external events. what
actually takes place contradicts the impulse of history just as much as it corresponds to
it. there is no universal history as a theodicy, demonstrating the successful
transmutation of the ‘ought’ into the ‘is.’” (122)

His purpose is to defend Marxism against a kind of dogmatism that becomes either too
mechanistic or utopian.

“The socialist principle is able to resolve the inner conflict of socialism. But since the
conflict of socialism is rooted in the conflict of the proletarian situation, such a solution
must be based on an overcoming of the ocnflict in the proletarian situation. the
socialist principle is able to resolve socialism’s antinomies only when, and to the extent
that, it serves as the expression of powers in the proletarian movement through which
the proletariat’s own antinomies are overcome.” (127)

So, some practical political discussion of potential alliances, what’s possible, realistic in
the present situation, . . .

“Expectation is always bound to the concrete, and at the same time transcends every
instance of the concrete. It possesses a content that is dependent on the spiritual or
social group involved, yet it transcends this content.” (132) xcf. Adorno

principle undergirds a more sophisticated understanding of human nature than that of

pleasure and pain principles (133), which is crude and wrong; the notion of the spiritual
and vital center, not a “doubling” of being in consciousness, but “the subordination of
the origin to the demand” (134); forces that determine consciousness;
“Psychoanalysis . . . points to connections between spiritual forms and the vitalities of
life, a connection that corresponds to the authentic Marxist view of history, undistorted
by bourgeois influence. These matters are unresolved at present.” (134)
the principle makes possible a better theory of needs; people have a “complex of vital,
erotic, aesthetic, and religious impulses” that often make the spiritual impulses more
powerful than the material/physical (136); this turns out to be a very different notion of
human nature from the bourgeois, as well (137) “For the proletarian movement draws
its fighting power not from the enlightenment of individual proletarians, but from that
in the origin which is back of the rational forms through which it expresses itself. It is
not the most enlightened, the so-called ‘most progressive’ consciousness that influences
hisotyr. It is the consciousness whose energies flow from the fullness and depth of
being, which it brings to light.” (137) [in T’s view, this hasn’t been harnessed yet to the
benefit of socialism, and the fulfillment of socialist expectation]

His analysis of power (138-144); relation of power to ability, expression of social will and
unity, power as the actualization of social unity (138), willingness to consent, or else
struggle to re-establish some other form of power (139), “the exercise of power appears
to be just when all members of a society can acknowledge that there own will is
contained in the will of the whole” (139), so the revolution has to instantiate an
overarching justice (140), and this justice has to have the substance of being the
fulfillment of primal being, “the fulfillment of that which was intended by the origin.”
(140); not bound by the actual powers of origin and their ambiguity, rather “more
adequate justice” (141), “Socialism has no cause to pursue the utopia of a society without
power, a notion that derives from the bourgeois principle and depends on the belief in
natural harmony. Rather, it must understand the power that it wins and defends as a
realization of this justice for this time and in this social situation. So the problem of
power proves to be the problem of a concrete justice.” (141) [NOTE: 20: The antithesis
between power and justice rests on an abstract concept of justice and a confusion of
power with force. A concrete conception of justice dissolves the antithesis and makes
each factor dependent on the other. In historical life the tension between power and
justice remains. the universal demand for justice is raised against power that has
become force. But this contradiction does not represent either true power or true
justice.” (176)]

further, on power, “It is important for the theory of revolution that the attainment of
power in society always presupposes the possession of certain qualities that persuade
other groups to subject themselves to the group holding power. The development of
such qualities is thus just as necessary for the revolutionary process as is the seizure of
(143) the power apparatus. This takes place invisibly, slowly, and in constant struggle
within the group iteslf and in its encounter with other groups.” (144)

Culture. strengthening the prophetic as opposed to the priestly element in the

churches. (145)´”It is only out of the tensions of the religious tradition that new religious
life has ever sprung. That is the significance of the churches’ preservation of the
religious powers of origin in an age that is characterized by autonomy and
objectification. The socialist principle makes it possible for socialism to understand itself
in terms of its own roots, and that means, religiously, and on the basis of its own
prophetic element to take up a relationship again with the prophetic elements in the
history of Western religion.” (146)

“The future symbolic language can be developed only through a combination of religious
and secular symbolism.” (147) socialism needs powerful symbolic language.
Culture needs to thrive, by drawing on the deep wells of being. Symbols can’t be
sheltered from critical reason; they have to live or die on their merits, and their merits
are that they disclose to being its real depths. (150)

“Eros and Purpose in the Life of the Community” (150-153)

“. . . only what once had a genuine use can be misused.” (151) “The prophetic is always
addressed to all humanity, but it always proceeds from amongst a people, exhibiting
thereby the unity of origin and goal that is typical of it.” (151)

“The powers of origin possessed by woman by virtue of her resonance with eros and
motherhood cannot easily be incorporated into the extremely onesided, male-oriented
rationalistic system. Just as it supported the proletarian movement over against class
rule, so socialism should support the women’s movement that sets itself against this
tendency of the bourgeois principle. . . .” (152)
What is wrong with this picture??? Sadly, here is an impoverished treatment of
eros, and the typical equation of “woman” with “eros” due to the specifically male
relationship to eros in a narrow sense . . . so: everyone always has a long way to
go. But, also, potentialities in feminism . . . at this time (1933) yet to be dreamt

Here’s his conclusion:

“Socialism can be victorious only in reliance on its own principle, in which powers of
origin and prophetic expectation are combined. But expectation must play the major
role. Only through expectation is human existence raised to the level of true humanity.
Only under its leadership can human being and human society find their fulfillment.
the hegemony of the myth of origin means the domination of violence and death. Only
expectation can triumph over the death now threatening Western civilization through the
resurgence of the myth of origin. And expectation is the symbol of socialism.” (162)

Can’t underestimate the importance of this analysis for the consideration of utopian thought or
perhaps utopian expectation in Adorno, Agamben, Irigaray. All are concerned with expectation in
various ways, and expectation as the avenue to the transformed situation. We could also use the
symbol of transformation, which is perhaps more popular these days, at least in Presbyterian and
perhaps wider Christian circles. Important is reliance on symbolic, connection to sources of the
symbolic; rationalism in partnership and tension with this pre- or supra-rational level; future
orientation; Tillich clearly deploys the concept of “utopian” as hollow, miraculous, without
substance; the desirable future is not utopian, because real rather than imaginary, possible
rather than impossible in principle, though as something existential, it presumably will not be, in
fact, ideal.