Morality, politics and mytho-poetic discourse in the oldest system-programme for German idealism

The Rousseauian answer to a contemporary question

Philip Andrew Quadrio*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper considers the relation between mytho-poetic narrative and practical philosophy in an Idealist/Romantic fragment, usually attributed to Hegel, known as the 'System-programme'. Like many works of the young Hegel, the text seeks political reform through a reform of religion and suggests that for politics to be truly motivating reason must be embedded in mytho-poetic discourse. This Hegelian 'reform' is in the service of a new, sensuous, practical rationality and a motivating political praxis. The paper places these issues in the context of the religious thought of J.J. Rousseau, particularly his religious themes, as presented in The Social Contract. The paper also connects these issues to a political problem identified in recent work by Simon Critchley, the problem of practical or moral motivation. Critchley claims that while citizens of secular, liberal, democratic societies experience the political norms that shape their lives as externally binding, these norms are not internally compelling. Against this he claims that what are motivating are frameworks of belief that call the secular project into question. At least one of Critchley's solutions to this problem is connected to the sphere of the religious. While accepting the idea that connecting social and political problems to religion can render them motivating, this paper will withhold from endorsing either the solution offered by the young Hegel in the 'System-programme' or Critchley's, and raises doubts also about the Rousseauian response. It argues that these solutions fail to adequately address the problem they face: how to render contemporary political life internally compelling for modern political subjects?

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)625-640
Number of pages16
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Critchley
  • Ethics
  • Motivation
  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Rousseau

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