14 thoughts on “Carter Book Event: The Great Drama of Religion: Modernity, the Jews, and the Theopolitics of Race (Chapter 2)

  1. I realize that I did not ask what questions/comments/concerns/etc.. others had from this chapter, but I figured that, given the discussion around the last chapter, conversation would almost undoubtedly ensue without necessarily needing to ask for it to…!

  2. I found this chapter to be much more convincing than chapter 1, and in fact I kind of wish that he had started off with it, as it provides the paradigm for the intertwining of race and theology in modernity.

    I guess one potential objection, though, is what aspect is to be emphasized as primary: the general theory of white superiority over other races, or the desire to rid white Christianity of Jewish impurities. It’s clear from Carter’s account that the Jews provide a stand-in for all other races — but couldn’t that just reflect the fact that the Jews were the racial minority “nearest to hand,” or even the only racial minority that Germans would have any serious ideas about (given that Germany was only beginning to make gestures toward a colonial empire, an effort that ultimately proved pretty unsuccessful)? I imagine if Kant were American, for instance, the archetypal race group would have been African Americans, or if he were a contemporary German, he would’ve talked about Turks. In the case of Turks, religion would certainly be at issue — and contemporary European conservatives have proven more than willing to cast Muslims in the role formerly reserved for Jews — but in America, obviously it wouldn’t be as big an issue since African Americans are overwhlemingly Christian.

    This is just a “devil’s advocate” type of objection, but it does seem potentially simpler to assume that Kant is thinking primarily of Jews just because they’re “his” racial minority and that Kant is so concerned to get rid of Jewish influence on Christianity because that’s the primary influence they’ve had (at least in the Christian mind) — if there’d been a huge Muslim minority in Germany at the time, he still would’ve thought they were degerate and had a shitty religion, but there wouldn’t really be a need to “purge” Christianity of Islamic influence (given that Milbank had not been born yet…). So one could object that the centrality of the theological question is supported through circumstantial evidence.

  3. Also: I’d like to give Brandy special thanks for agreeing to write these posts even though she’s been traveling in Turkey. Surely this was above and beyond the call of duty.

  4. Great chapter on Kant and very eye-opening for me; I’m left wondering how much of a direct impact Kant had and how much his kind of thought on anthropology and the other sciences were the norm for his time. I love how Kant lists distinctions of the different races and says in particular that Africans seem to hate to get lashes as one of their defining qualities. Talk about clueless and just plain stupid.
    Adam, then again Milbank may be Kant reincarnated to finish the job…

  5. Reading this chapter for a second time, I felt like the Philosophy of Religion course I took in undergrad did an inadequate job of introducing us to Kant’s historical context.

    Without a doubt, I would say this chapter was life-changing for me at least, and changed the direction of my ThM thesis.

  6. I think the tendency for a lot of people when confronted with crazy racist claims by someone like Kant (or Hegel or Hume or whoever… — really depressing that we could probably come up with a more or less endless list here) is to assume that such claims are more or less “detachable. The sentiment is: yeah, they’re wrong, but they don’t affect what’s really important about the person’s work.

    Once you’ve read this chapter, it’s way harder to do that with Kant, and by analogy, I tend to assume that a similar pattern will hold for other thinkers (i.e., their racist ideas won’t prove to be so “detachable” either).

  7. Good point, Adam. I used to scoff at the idea that there was a type of racism behind Enlightenment Reason and thought. After reading Carter (and recently stuff by Dabashi, Said and others) it is much tougher to hold this point. I am probably going to point out some of these problematic ideas when I teach this period in the future especially as I come across it more and more especially in its connection to colonialism. I also wonder how problematic this becomes for anyone working from a Kantian paradigm today in any shape or form. It’s funny how if you start paying attention to the literature and not make excuses for some of these comments how it can change one’s perspective of history.
    For example, I know there has been some talk about Barth’s ridiculous Orientalist comment about Islam and Hitler in Toscano’s book which I think illustrates how a Kantian Eurocentrism may even be behind that.

  8. @Michael Jimenez: I’m interested in the Toscano book to which you refer re: Barth’s Orientalist comment about Islam. I also have an article in press on the early Barth and W. E. B. Du Bois dealing with issues of imperialism/colonialism. I mention a comment Barth makes that shows how he absorbed German colonialist sensibilities (he uses such language as “savages” and the like). But I also show how Barth was significantly redirecting (in a way that in number of respects theologians have still to catch up with) the colonialist/imperial pathologies of Christianity and Christian theology. And of course here I mean especially that Christianity that has become tethered to the West, providing it with its religious architecture.

    So again, would love to know which Toscano book you refer to. And as for my article, it’s called “An Unlikely Convergence: W. E. B. Du Bois, Karl Barth and the Problem of the Imperial God-Man” (forthcoming in CR: The New Centennial Review). A shorter version will appear as an essay in *Race and Political Theology* ed. Vincent Lloyd (forthcoming, Stanford UP).

  9. The Toscano book is Fanaticism and he quotes Barth from one of his more (I think) obscure works; I don’t have the book on me at the moment but if I remember right he either makes a statement about Hitler like he is Muhammad or Muslim or something like that.
    Your work on Barth and Du Bois sounds really interesting, so I really look forward to reading it when it comes out.

  10. I also wonder how problematic this becomes for anyone working from a Kantian paradigm today in any shape or form.

    I probably fit this bill to some degree. The short version: we cringe, like one receiving a tuition payment from a racist uncle, and then go cash the check.

    Longer version: we remain overwhelmingly sympathetic to the starting point of Kant’s agenda. Namely, an owning up to the fact that “real” Christian theology, i.e., the disclosure of the God of Israel as the redemption for Jews & Gentiles alike, simply does not ring true for us. Perhaps we, and they, should be of better faith and fully remove ourselves from the formal faith of Christianity as a whole. That is well and good, but we of the West know all too well that as much as we might remove ourselves from Christianity, Christianity rarely returns the favor to us. So, ours, the Kantian sympathizers, one for all and all very distrustful of the one, is the lot of reading this Christianity against itself: picking and choosing at will at times. Enlightenment Christianity is a peculiar recipe, whereby one takes the leftovers of a confessed religion and calls the dinner served the very one intended all along. Those wiping their mouths & belching from the first meal are, of course, incredulous – how could they not be?

    Nevertheless, yes, Kant is damnable. And, as Adam points out, his damnation is total. Those of us working from within the Kantian paradigm, at our best, realize this rather than avoid it. But as with Kant’s relationship to Christianity, our refusal of Kant does not mean Kant refuses us. He’s woven into the West by now. Those of us who knowingly work within the Kantian paradigm, certainly I anyway, read Kant against himself, as he (& others) did Christianity, in search of the leftovers, repulsed by the greasy lot who swallowed down the main course, but eager to turn it into something else. This is not the same thing as abstracting out the racism, etc. Leftovers are often mangled, after all. Kant’s problem, as I see it, was not seeing the mangled violence of meat on his place for what it was: he wanted it, his course of leftover castoffs, to be the main course. And in the process, he not only gladly accepted the racist core of institutional Christianity but somehow managed to make it even more poisonous in its secularized finalization.

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