Jurgen Moltmann on Complexity, Compromise and Concession in Society

Three years ago I published a post as I reflected on British politics in light of the Brexit phenomena; how words are a power-play and how extreme caution and wisdom is needed to avoid what it turns out, we have not avoided – a fractured country and an advanced political system that doesn’t know what to do.

As I write this, the UK is holding European elections, elections we never thought we’d have to partake, in light of the Brexit referendum.  I’m not interested in saying this or that about Brexit – good and true arguments can be made by both sides, but no-one is really listening to each other anymore, at least not in any substantive way.

What I am interested in, is not so much the specific thing that is a situational political event that our lives are living through, but a much wider fact of what it means to be a human being in a community/society like this:

I recently read these words of Jurgen Moltmann in his book ‘Man’ (p.96-97) where I was reminded that any human politics (Brexit included) form part of the much wider and deeper matrix and fabric of humanity:

“In the Phrygian town of Gordium there was a war chariot dedicated to Zeus.  A skillfully tied knot was attached to it.  An old story promised dominion over all Asia to whoever managed to untie the Gordian knot.  When Alexander the Great came to the town, the sacred chariot with the knot was brought to him too.  But he did not bend down to undo it with patience and with understanding.  He took his sword and cut through it with one blow.

This story can be understood as a symbol for the very modern flight into direct action.  The relationships of dependence in society become increasingly more complex, and so life in them becomes increasingly complicated.  The meshes of social demands and reactions are spun around the individual like a net, in which he feels himself caught.

An open rationality, which must take into its reckoning ever new viewpoints, ever different standpoints, and a large number of possibilities, can only laboriously be maintained.  Relationships become relative, and because more and more things must be seen in multiple-layered contexts of conditions, it becomes more difficult to reach the right decisions.

Moves are made by way of compromises to concessions, so that everyone retains a feeling of dissatisfaction.  If society and its politics thus become more and more opaque, they correspond increasingly little to the elementary needs of man, to a hunger for a secure view of life, for clear relationships, and a stable identity.

Man can no longer bear to live in constant discussions in which everything must be put in question.  His inner need is no longer satisfied by the complicated and complex situations of society.  And so he reaches for Alexander’s sword of naked decision to gain clarity for himself, and boasts of direct action as the great resolver of the constant reflection demanded.

Struggle is again to become the father of all things, whether it be a great war, the class struggle, or just provocative action against the Establishment – ‘on to final engagement!’ is the cry.”

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