German Question: Pfaffenthum

This is my first real question to our imaginary audience, an important step on the way to the real blogging experience, I am sure, and it deals with a word Pfaffenthum that Kant uses in several places and that is generally translated in the Cambridge edition as “priestcraft” or “popery” (in Notes on Metaphysics, 18:601). There is a good old Russian word поповщина that seems to have the same sentiment attached to it (especially in Lenin). I wonder if anyone knows of some either contemporary Kantian or any other interesting contextual situations that can help me with this term (I’m looking at you, Alexei). In 7:60 Kant defines it as eine Herrschaft der Werkleute des Kirchenglaubens, a sort of an interesting connection then between Pfaffenthum and Herrschaft…

[Alexei’s citation below in English would be available on]: 

The chance which every citizen has to become a civil servant is thus the second affirmative relationship between civil society and state, the second identity. Like the first it is also of a quite superficial and dualistic nature. Every Catholic has the chance to become a priest (i.e., to separate himself from the laity as well as the world). Does the clergy on that account face the Catholic any less as an opposite power? That each has the possibility of gaining the privilege of another sphere proves only that his own sphere is not the actuality of this privilege.

11 thoughts on “German Question: Pfaffenthum

  1. So I’m now your go-to guy when it comes to obscure German words?

    ‘Pfaffentum’ is particularly troublesome. Kant has an extended discusion of the matter in the fourth part of his Religion within the mere Bounds of Reason, entitled, “Vom Dienst und Afterdienst unter der Herrschaft des guten Prinzips, oder von Religion und Pfaffentum.” (6: 151-202). There’s a vulgar play on words in Kant’s ‘Afterdienst.’ The Cambridge team has translated it as ‘counterfeit service,’ but it seems to mean something like ass-licking [even worse than brown nosing!].

    So the translation of part 4 of this text is something like, “Ministration and Ass-Licking/counterfeit service under the Dominion of the Good Principle, or, Religion and Papendom.” As far as I can tell, there’s no good translation of either Afterdienst or Pfaffentum into English. The latter has a certain repugnant, derisive feeling (Kant has a footnote about this somewhere in the Religion within Reason piece but I can’t find it at the moment) that ‘priestcraft’ doesn’t really carry, but something like Papishness does.

    It’s probably no surprise, then, that the clergy are relentlessly mocked by Hegel in the Unhappy Consciousness section of the Phenomenology, which is tightly bound to the Master-Slave [Herrschaft und Knechtschaft] thingie. It’s the priests who ward of the reconciliatory power of the Begriff with the incense and bells.

    Past that, however, the term ‘Pfaffentum’ comes up in at least one place in Marx’s writings: in his Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of right. (I don’t have an English citation, but in the Marx-Engels Ausgewählte Werke, it’s 1: 253). Marx writes,

    Diese Möglichkeit jedes Bürgers, Staatsbeamter zu werden, ist also das zweite affirmative Verhältnis zwischen bürgerlicher Gesellschaft und Staat, |die zweite Identität. Sie ist von sehr oberflächlicher und dualistischer Natur. Jeder Katholik hat die Möglichkeit, Priester zu werden (d.h. sich von den Laien wie der Welt zu trennen). Steht darum weniger das Pfaffentum dem Katholiken als eine jenseitige Macht gegenüber? Daß jeder die Möglichkeit hat, das Recht einer widern Sphäre zu erwerben, beweist nur, daß
    seine eigne Sphäre nicht die Wirklichkeit dieses Rechts ist. (ibid)

    About a hundered pages later, in the same work, Marx writes,

    Selbst historisch hat die theoretische Emanzipation eine spezifisch praktische Bedeutung für Deutschland. Deutschlands revolutionäre Vergangenheit ist nämlich theoretisch, es ist die Reformation. Wie damals
    der Mönch, so ist es jetzt der Philosoph, in dessen
    Hirn die Revolution beginnt.

    Luther hat allerdings die Knechtschaft aus Devotion besiegt, weil er die Knechtschaft aus Überzeugung an ihre Stelle gesetzt hat. Er hat den Glauben an die Autorität gebrochen, weil er die Autorität des Glaubens restauriert hat. Er hat die Pfaffen in Laien verwandelt, weil er die Laien in Pfaffen verwandelt hat. Er hat den Menschen von der äußern Religiosität befreit, weil er die Religiosität zum innern Menschen gemacht hat. Er hat den Leib von der Kette emanzipiert, weil er das Herz in Ketten gelegt (1:386)

    I don’t know if this text was available to Lenin though (I’m fuzzy on what was available when). But Marx also uses the word Pfaffen in the “Fetish-Character of the Commodity” section of Kapital. I’m too lazy to quote, so you’ll just have to trust me.

    But now I’m tired, and I still have to put the books back on their shelves….

  2. Thanks, bjk – I think popery or priestcraft are great, I was thinking about some cultural context maybe – I mean Kant has a footnote in The Religion book explaining his own “reproachful” use (6:176), I thought maybe instead of actually doing some research, I’d cut the corner and ask the people…

  3. Following Alexei’s Marx quote, I find this in the Critique of Hegelian Philosophy of Right – this is few pages above the quoted text:

    Der »Staatsformalismus«, der die Bürokratie ist, ist der »Staat als Formalismus«, und als solchen Formalismus hat sie Hegel beschrieben. Da dieser »Staatsformalismus« sich als wirkliche Macht konstituiert und sich selbst zu einem eignen materiellen Inhalt wird, so versteht es sich von selbst, daß die »Bürokratie« ein Gewebe von praktischen Illusionen oder die »Illusion des Staats« ist. Der bürokratische Geist ist ein durch und durch jesuitischer, theologischer Geist. Die Bürokraten sind die Staatsjesuiten und Staatstheologen. Die Bürokratie ist la république prêtre |die Pfaffenrepublik|.

    Not exactly Pfaffentum, but also pretty interesting because now we have this French expression – la république prêtre – which in the English translation is left just like that, but the German one has a German equivalent (editorial remark?).

  4. You’re welcome, Mikhail.

    For the record, though, it’s not the abuse I mind (I’m a grad student, so it’s par for the course); it’s the reading of books that really hurts. I mean, normally, I just skim them and look at the pictures (it’s why I like aesthetics). Sometimes I doodle in the margins. But mostly they’re just for show.

  5. Reading does suck indeed, sometimes when I’m in a good mood, I divulge all kinds of tricks in class on how to read without reading, and then a whole bunch of profs catches me leaving the office and kicks my ass big time – the secrets of the industry…

  6. For what it’s worth, “priestcraft” and “popery” had the same derisive, highly negative and anti-Catholic connotation in eighteenth-century English. Those senses have worn off a bit since then, but they’re very obvious in the literature of the time.

  7. I would say yes, with the caveat that “popery” and “priestcraft” were used by a group in power (Protestants) to attack a group excluded from power (Catholics), whereas поповщина has a bit more of an “immanent critique” ring to it.

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