In one of his wartime letters to Franz Rosenzweig (the correspondence published as Judaism Despite Christianity: The 1916 Wartime Correspondence Between Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and Franz Rosenzweig), Rosenstock challenges the Rosenzweig’s idea that his love for a particular scholar can be a “merely private affair.” Love above all “can’t remain a private affair” since “one keeps the secret that everyone must have for himself in order to be able to share it with others.”

This leads him into a consideration of the “emancipatory” aim of the modern formation of the private sphere. The Reformation slogan “cuius regio, eius religio,” was intended to free but ended up checkmating the religion. “Private” turned from an emancipation into a limit, a private affair in the sense that it was an “isolated” matter that had to be kept secret. Private life did “everything to make this arcanum of the individual into an aduton[innermost sanctuary] that cannot be entered by anybody - not even by the individual himself.”

Rosenstock sees the same inversion in the notion of freedom of conscience, which, “instead of leading to an impetuous competition of consciences, became freedom from conscience.” True freedom of conscience would involve a free expression of what the conscience demands; in practice, it silences.

In sum, “what is today private” is only “apparently emancipated, but actually maimed.”

More on: History

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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