Prof. Dr. Judith Wolfe: The Inheritance of Eschatological Thought in Interwar Philosophy

In recent years, the secularization thesis that long dominated the historiography of European modernity is being superseded in historical, literary, theological and philosophical scholarship by thick re-evaluations of the enduring (though often controversial) place of theological ideas and structures in modern European thought and life. One of the most significant and complex theological loci in this context is eschatology, i.e. the study of the ‘last things’. The Enlightenment critique of revelation only reconfigured, but did not displace, the need of theological, philosophical, historical and political thinkers for a projected consummation of life and of history. The nineteenth century was, consequently, characterized by an immanentization of traditional eschatological categories like judgement and messianic rule, as expressed in Schiller’s dictum ‘Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht’ (‘world history is the last judgement’). The cataclysm of WWI precipitated a radical questioning by theologians and philosophers of this immanentized eschaton. This paper outlines four thematic approaches to philosophical engagements with eschatology in the years 1918 to 1938: political philosophies incorporating apocalyptic themes; debates surrounding the crisis of historicism; life-philosophical responses to neo-Kantianism; and the question of trajectories and ends.