Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Was Gadamer Right Wing?

The author of the above article is Jeet Heer. I read the “about” section this morning and learned that he “is writing a doctoral thesis on the cultural politics of Little Orphan Annie at York University (Toronto).” I did notice that the “ten top right wing” section on cartoonists seemed much more knowledgeable and esoteric than the others. I commented on the question of Heidegger being “Right Wing” in a note yesterday, but I notice that he also has Hans-Georg Gadamer on his “top ten right-wing philosophers” list. Why?

I have seen no reason to suspect Heer of any deep-seated understanding of philosophy and so think his reasoning behind placing Gadamer on this list may be nothing deeper than knowing he was a student of Heidegger. Now, I am fond of Gadamer and since I am I conservative (American “Right-Wing”), I wonder (in a spirit of self-analysis) if perhaps I had some sort of unconscious “Right-Wing-type” affinity for him. I gave the matter some thought this morning and couldn’t come up with anything. If Heer had argued that Gadamer was “Left Wing” I would at least have some idea what he was talking about. Gadamer was opposed to “Methods of Interpretations,” as am I. A “method” that presupposed the truth of Marxism-Leninism could be criticized using Gadamer’s approach, but a “method” presupposing the truths in the American Constitution, and Bill of Rights could also be criticized. I would have taken that criticism as plausible and been willing to defend Constitutional tenets in modern terms – and have. But I don’t think Heer has this sort of thing in mind.

Gadamer has also taken some flack in Christian circles because many of the denominations do have “Methods of Interpretations.” Dallas Theological Seminary, for example, has been influenced by the “Methods of Interpretation” of Darby and Chafer.

I’m not sure Gadamer even knew who Darby and Chafer were. His approach to Hermeneutics was such that I applied it to the “Methods” of Darby and Chafer. It provided a hermeneutical framework for evaluating their “Method(s).” Do you approach Biblical Truth more closely if you apply a method that causes you to treat expressions like “end times” the same way every time you encounter it and to treat all Biblical Prophecy as literalistically as possible, or do you avoid these “method,” and seek whatever it is that the text says?

I had no difficulty choosing Gadamer’s hermeneutical approach over Marx’s, Lenin’s, Darby’s and Chafer’s, but what of the more Conservative “methods”? It depends. If a Biblical commentator has an ax to grind, then he may be imposing a method which Gadamer might find suspect, and such commentators exist, but I’ve found many commentators who do not use methods. They seek to discover whatever the text says – whatever that might be.

Germanic theological Scholarship did apply a “method.” It’s “method” consisted of the presupposition that all the Biblical Texts had been written by men without supernatural influence. They therefore resolved to treat Biblical Texts just like they would treat Homer. They imposed a presupposition that precluded the conclusion that Christians have drawn during their entire history, that the Bible was inspired by God. I have no difficulty apply Gadamer’s approach to this Germanic “method.”

I haven’t been terribly interested in Gadamer beyond his writings on Hermeneutics, but I did wonder what he saw in Heidegger. In fact his appreciation for Heidegger caused me to read him more seriously than I might otherwise have done. If I were planning to live to be 200 rather than the mere 100 years that Gadamer lived, I would like to compare Heidegger’s opinions about the “Will” to those of Jonathan Edwards . . . but maybe someone has already done that.

I would be surprised if Gadamer were terribly interested in modern-day politics. Toward the end of his life he seemed much more interested in Greek Poetry. He was very fond of poetry, which is another reason I liked him. But “Right Wing”? I don’t see it. Someone would have to explain that to me.

Lawrence Helm

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