Richard Feringer's Notes on Rosenstock-Huessy's Works

Lectures 1-20
Feringer notes
Last edited: 11-98


A series of lectures given at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Lecture – 1

1.A primary cause of community disintegration in modern times is technology. ERH formulated the rule,  ANY TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION EXPANDS THE SPACE IN WHICH WE MOVE, CHANGES GROUP RELATIONS, AND SHORTENS THE TIME IN WHICH WE CAN ACHIEVE ADAPTATION.  We can see its manifestations most clearly in third-world countries where there is destruction of groups — a family,  a village,  a town, or a country.

The issue of facing war and endowing peace is the problem dealt with in this series, as war of one type or another has been a major consequence of this disruption.

2.One aspect of this disruption is the inability of people to speak a common language. In disciplines, too much specialization creates barriers between individuals, social classes, and countries. The implication is the dying of hope all over the globe.

3.ERH claims Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud were influential voices whose messages contributed to social disruption in a major way.  He dubbed them `disangelists.’ [RF – At the moment it is unclear to me how he defines the term “angelist,” regarding the four scholars who were original thinkers intending to change the way we think. Like all original thinkers they were certainly ex-angelists at their inception. To evangelize is to preach the gospel. My best guess is that since ERH saw Christianity as a unifying force, these four scholars preached ideas that would create further disunity.]

People are separated by social classes, race, language, culture, country; there is discontinuity between ideas, specialization between disciplines, incompatible philosophies.  The Lonely Crowd is what Riesman titled industrial culture.  What will cure this sickness of fragmented realities, generations separated and unable to understand each other?

4.This breakdown of communication between generations must be cured simply because we cannot establish social truths in one generation. In another essay he asserts, that each generation evolves its own myths, and to separate these into truth and non-truth one requires the next generation to either prove or disprove.

5.Prophecy and fulfillment! Were these four scholars prophets?  ERH asserts that Christian doctrine (and history) reveals four stages that define an era: 1) the prophecy, 2) the event prophesied, 3) the defeat (or decline), and 4) the gospels (the stories by apostles of that era). And this seems to be a yardstick to describe how the four were disruptive! “Prophets of doom”, and “devil writers” –  he called them. (p.7)

He points out parenthetically how fulfillment of the prophet is never recognized within the group; the Jews never recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of a prophecy.

6.What these four proclaimed dissolves history as we have lived it!

a.Darwin espouses the survival of the fittest, i.e. the brutes (or the strongest) of the world will always rule. In reality it is the child who starts a new generation. A new idea never has power in the beginning, and other examples can be given whereby a theory for animals does not apply to a world of humans, although his theory has indeed been so interpreted.

b.Marx preached endless class wars, but in the end there is to be peace in his time. How was peace to be brought about?  We are not advised by Marx, in the historical record on this question.

c.Nietzsche preached that there is nothing inherently true, beautiful and good, in this world – only our thinking makes it so.  There are, in other words, no absolutes.  According to Nietzsche true, beautiful, and good are the same as love, faith and hope from Christianity. His logic was, that since we always have change, knowledge is what we wish to believe, rather than anything depending upon historical verification.  The Greeks believed in the ultimate truth as represented in theories, in abstractions, in thought by itself.  Christianity believes that thought must be validated by experience over time, and the meaning of faith, love, and hope are sequential elements revealing progress.  The Greeks didn’t believe that humankind could cause progress – that was up to the gods, which controlled man.

7.The value of these four thinkers was that they forced the Christian theologians to separate the humanist (Greek) thinking  from the “Cross,” i.e. from Christian principles. (p.10)  These four also give evidence from their experiences in life, that for one to proclaim truth, one must be indifferent to the forces of their own time. Nietzsche eschewed academe, Marx eschewed safety (he was chased out of several European countries before living in England), Darwin had to be indifferent to the church at a time when it mattered, and Freud had to disregard concerns of the medical profession about work..

ERH, while not believing in their ideas, did believe in their genius, their sincerity in seeking truth,  “…their way of life.”  He also believed however, that they were out of tune with their own time.

Still another lesson they teach us (following Marx) is that social change must, come about only with war. ERH subscribed to this idea, if one broadens the definition of war to include non-violent revolution. In other words, significant change does not occur incrementally.  Pacificim therefore is not a viable principle for change because, were it commonly held as a belief, the brutes would rule the world. Peace would exist only from the barrel of a gun.

Question & Answer Period

1.Q – What I would like to ask about the distinction between Christianity and myth?

A – In order for any growth, at the beginning we go through a period of frenzy, of mythologizing about the consequences of our change.  The myths and legends in our story books reflect this stage of change metaphorically. “The sleeping Beauty is a much truer love — everything taken together.” (p.22)

Every nation has their myths, George Washington and the cherry tree, etc. And at the time of our change, of our frenzy, do we understand what we are going through? “…this is the human situation, that at no one time where we are acting (taking action) are we allowed to know what’s happening.”

If we attempt to be objective at these moments, we suddenly become impotent.  For example, if we are self-conscious in giving a speech, attempting to assess our impact in the middle of the speech, we fail as a speaker. THESE MOMENTS ARE NOT TO BE OBJECTIFIED, BUT TO BE ENDURED. At these creative moments our passion is obsessive, unconscious, and we totally believe in our acts, that a significant contribution to the world will hang on our invention or act.

2.Q – What was the myth from which Marxism stood apart, in order to create its own myth?

A – The myth of harmony in humanism, that humanism would create the good, true, and beautiful.

3.Q – Was Christian idealism ever a creative myth?

A – There is no relationship between idealism and Christianity.  The idealist (philosopher/humanist) believes that at any moment he can call on all of the creative powers in the world, as with any divine spirit. This is to say that the “ideal” is like a tool on our tool bench. The Christian, on the other hand knows that he/she can never be complete, because for any significant achievement or truth to be revealed, three generations must pass.  This is the meaning of the Trinity, that one must sacrifice oneself in order for any achievement

FULFILLMENT  in one’s life, as demonstrated by the story of Jesus, is described by four phases;

…everything that goes on in Christianity is having to do with these great four phases of promise, of fulfillment, of apostolate, and of the story — the Gospel.  Every one of us, if he is really living at all, goes through these four phases, because you have to be true to your calling, to your own moment of divinity. (p.25)

ERH clarifies this statement — following one’s calling is paralleling the life of the cross,  “…to carry through one thing which at one moment got hold of him and he knew that nobody else was going to do it if he didn’t do it.”  It takes 30 or 40 years to know the consequences.  This is easy for some to accept, and not for others.  But we will never feel fulfillment unless we follow “our bliss,” as Joseph Campbell describes it.

4.Q – Dr. Freud came in for attack here. Where is the crux of Freud’s error, as opposed to the other three dis-evangelists?

A – Freud was wrong in 4 things:  he was philosophically with the Unitarians, who believe that philosophy had to rule theology and that you didn’t need anything more.  Why are they wrong?

a.They didn’t know that war was natural and peace is miraculous, they thought the opposite.

b.They thought that speech was natural, and thought  or philosophy was miraculous or divine.  We know now that it is very easy to have thoughts privately, but to be understood by others is miraculous.

c.They thought that love was natural and sex is divine.  We know that it is just the opposite, that sex is natural and love is supernatural (divine).  We know that there is no love without sacrifice.  Love is desire and sacrifice in balance.

d.It is a victory to be loved, and only then comes a willingness to love in return. The great error of our society in America today is that sex is confused as love.

The evolution of real love is that to be loved is a miracle; it is overwhelming, and calls for love in response.  There is first faith on the part of the girl that her love will be returned,  then love in response because of the realization of that miracle. ALL OF THESE HUMANISTIC BELIEFS WERE OPPOSED TO THIS IDEA, AND WERE HELD BY MR. FREUD

Chapt. 2

1.To summarize, the message of Christianity was in response to the Greeks, who had invented philosophy (pure thought), and advocated science as the sole method for a description of the universe.  Christianity raised the question, how is a community to be created, one in which  people live together freely, in peace?  They found the key in formulating the fruitful cycle from promise to fulfillment:  1) the promise, 2)  the prophesy and command to take action, 3) the apostolic, where others take over the cause, and finally 4) the telling of the story, the Gospels.

2.In sum, these four disangelists dissolved the pillars of community, made us back into animals, into individuals and class warriors, and into  “…insane men in a frenzy.” (p.2)

3.ERH asserts that these “disangelists” represented only one quarter of reality, and that for any generation to have meaning someone must speak out and represent all of reality.  By this he means the “man in business, and the  worker.” They represented also the “scourge of Christianity, pacificism.” He points out that in America in the last 150 years, organized religion was pacifist. This country has had more wars than anywhere else. This means that our wars have been economically motivated, and this is caused by our lopsided view of “the man of business.”

4.During the last 1500 years there have been 3 eras when the time-span of peace was extended, by monasteries, by cities of the late Middle Ages, and by Capitalism. WHAT ERH IS ASSERTING IS THAT WE MUST STUDY WAR AS WELL AS PEACE, THAT OUR EXISTENCE IS AN ALTERNATION BETWEEN THE TWO,  AND FINALLY THAT IT IS WAR THAT IS THE NORMAL CONDITION OF EXISTENCE, AND PEACE THAT IS THE MIRACLE.  (p.5)

5.The mind and the body are not free to do what they please, but each must attend to  obedience to the creator.  This is to say that war is a natural given in nature, and peace is a creation of the living word (which allows us to understand each other)  “…world without the living word is at war.” (p.6)

6.The second generation after the end of a war becomes complacent about paying the price for peace, and then war breaks out once again!  Once again ERH pillories the liberals [RF – in what reads like his half- serious, facetious mood] “…who have doubts about everything and an unwillingness to sacrifice for peace.”

7.ERH charges that the intelligentsia of the West was unable to connect the times between generations with two different values.  Marxism’s downfall was that it assumed all conflicts would be between Capital and Labor. Proudhon predicted in 1836 that the ultimate state in society would not be between capital and labor, nor world government, nor something resembling a league of nations, but rather THE CREATIVE ANTAGONISM BETWEEN TWO GREAT WORLD POWERS. “There is husband and wife, so I don’t see why there shouldn’t be Communism and America.” (p.14)

8.Because in the last century the “church” has been impotent, it has been without prophecy, or fulfillment, without crucifixion and fulfillment  “The church had to leave it to these disangelists to prophesy and to gospelize…” (p.15)  Christianity is not a power in life today because it (the organized churches) has eschewed these acts, to connect the generations by detailing what must come about, or will come about if action is not taken. The great accomplishments after the depression of 1929 were that a liability (unemployment) was turned into an asset.

This was caused by a shift in values. Before 1846 labor was treated as a commodity to be sold over the counter. In 1936, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed this notion, and stated that the unemployed were not “labor” as a commodity, but human beings. Then unions became strong, social security was instigated, with collective bargaining, better compensation, etc. THE POWER OF MARXISM WAS ADDRESSED AND RISEN ABOVE, and a liability was turned into an asset.

9.Here ERH re-introduces a definition of the term METANOIA, a rethinking of old values, of one’s place in the world. Marxism failed, and Capitalism did not crumble by its own injustices, it became socialistic. But Marx as a person deserves a place in history because he was willing to sacrifice for his own ideas, (sacrificing his ability to make a living).  By this standard, his life was a great success!

10.So this new era in America (and Europe) in 1936 is now over. Unions are now broken; there are to be no “dialectics,” that is ideologies.  RATHER OUR NEW ERA MUST BE A DIALOGUE (A CONVERSATION) BETWEEN TWO POWERS.  Not just a theory, but explaining between opponents, “…for war, solidarity; for peace, conversation…”  And Marx’s prophecy was fulfilled?

Strikes have always been fought for the dignity of man and for the solidarity of workers. And that is a religious item.  (p.22)

Thus Marx’s prophecy (of dignity for the working man) must be continued, but the downfall of unions now invites a new prophecy, which is necessary when one prophecy has been fulfilled. The fight of unions was in the end a religious fight. WILL THIS BRING ABOUT A MORE SERIOUS STUDY OF WAR?

11.In the question and answer period the question was raised, that isn’t a study of war, of the warring side of human psyche, opening a Pandora’s box? YES, ERH answers, the devil must be given his day in court, but not allowed to conquer us!

Q – Have not these four disangelists revealed the dark side of mankind, that is, the war between conscious and unconscious, between the animal species, between human groups?

A – Yes, we will always need this, to address ourselves to the reality of the human psyche, BUT ALSO BY DOING THIS, LEARN TO RISE ABOVE IT. But the disangelists have only revealed this side of man, they have not explored it.  (p.26)

Q – Is there no such thing as a war between ideas? Do we always have to have armed conflict?

A – Idealists are the war mongers, because they see their views as absolute, as non-negotiable, because to them the mind is divine!.  The only person you can deal with is the one who can make up his mind, as contrasted with those who follow some idea regardless of real-life situations.  So ideals make for war. (p.27)

Q – How is the next era to begin, through dialogue?

A – Today, dialogue between East and West is not possible.  We have many philosophies, just as in Christ’s time, and these have little common ground.

What unites people is a similar life-style. Generals of opposing armies understand each other, just as do workers in all countries understand each other. The Christian churches have done this, taught us that war is wicked. It can be, but we are kept alive by the conflicts, by the misunderstandings, because our survival is tested in each conflict.  The churches, by avoiding the study of war, have been a barrier to our rising above it!

PEACE CORPS – 1966 Vershire, VT

Lectures given to a group of Peace Corps Volunteers – An Exploration of War!

1.The idea of a peace corps is a necessity; but one must be aware of the destructive nature of fashions that are superficial and impotent.

“The Peace Corps is too serious to leave it to anybody official. You would have to restore the Peace Corps even if the government of the United States would abolish it. (p.2)

War is caused, in part, when a nation oversteps its duty to other nations. The English/Chinese opium war is an example.  When one country damages another war becomes inevitable.  THE PEACE CORPS IS AN ATTEMPT TO BREAK WITH THIS PAST WHEREBY ONE COUNTRY EXPLOITED ANOTHER WITH NO CONSIDERATION FOR ITS PEOPLE AS FELLOW HUMANS. Rather, governments must begin to act “in the interest of mankind.”  HOW THEN IS NATIONAL SELF-INTEREST TO BE BROKEN DOWN?  This is the question of these lectures.

2.ERH repeats once again the evidence from which his stated LAW OF TECHNOLOGY is derived.  This is, that we now live in an age with rapidly changing inventions (technology), and that each new major invention widens the space in which we move, changes fundamental human relationships (i.e. destroying familiar groups such as family, village, town, or country), and decreases the time we have to adapt to these changes.  We are now, therefore constantly off-balance.

Learning the meaning of our experience rests on a striving to unify the forces effecting our lives. It is too casual to call this “the push-button” age, it is much deeper.  It is threatening our ability to fend off fragmentation of parts of our lives, our sense of basic “groupings,” our sense of what is valuable and necessary, and what reality is. Most of all it threatens our ability to maintain a balance of these forces. HOW THEN DO WE CREATE A FUTURE FOR OURSELVES WHEN CHANGE IS SO CONSTANT?

3.How do we bring up our children, and adapt ourselves to rapid change and imbalance?

Lecture 2

1.The town in which these lectures were held, Vershire, VT, has been destroyed by technology. Its fate is controlled by a regional government, or by state and federal funds, where the community has little voice. The meaning to the townspeople, of social and economic forces  derives from another source, rather than their town meetings as in the past.

I mean, we are talking about daily processes that eat the marrow out of our daily life, of our work, out of our friendships. (p.6)

In this situation people lose their jobs, but are held accountable for their behavior in many ways by outsiders, causing them to feel dislocated. Our schools, courts, and all professions are not functioning properly, much of what they do is dis-functional to the community. ON THE INTERNATIONAL LEVEL, THIS IMBALANCE IS A CONSTANT CAUSE OF WARS, BECAUSE NEW ISSUES ARISE, OLD ENEMIES BECOME ALLIES, OLD ANTAGONISMS ARISE IN NEW FORMS, COMMUNICATION BREAKS DOWN AND MUST BE SOMEHOW RE-ESTABLISHED.

2.THE FUNCTION OF THE PEACE CORPS MUST ATTEMPT TO FILL THE GAP BETWEEN THE OLD AND  NEW ORDER (of rapid change). ERH goes on to explain that this has been the focus of all his professional life!  (p.11)

3.If our grassroots are disappearing, or have disappeared, THEN THEY MUST BE REPLANTED.

One must get involved in community issues.

4.It is not trade between countries that will cause wars in the future, but constant technological change. We are all guilty of this malfunction in societies around the world, because we all participate in the technology. Therefore it is incumbent upon all of us that we participate in establishing a cure.

5.Part of the cure is to re-establish our attitudes (this gets to psychological principles we are taught to follow).  At present we are taught that peace and love are acts of will:

…peace has been omitted in the thought of mankind as a task or as a problem for the past 200 years.  It has been replaced by will. Peace will not be brought about by your will. (p.16)

One, for instance, cannot will that someone else falls in love with him/her. One can only act in a way so that this might happen. Peace may come to men ofgood will. ERH refers to a Greek text that says, “Peace to all men of His grace.” (p.17)

6.Peace cannot be imposed.  If a strong power dominates, the peace does not come about by the free will of both parties, only one party, rendering it only temporary.

Friendliness is not peace, in the sense that its time-span may be short.

Contracts, as peace agreements, are insufficient because even if one follows the letter of the agreement, the intent may be destroyed, just as with any law. Just as no lasting marriage between a man and woman could survive if each party followed the letter of some contract.  It must be from the heart, from a desire on both parties to be fair and trustworthy, etc.

Peace and love are also like citizenship, which cannot be defined by some printed formula.  Citizenship occurs when breakdowns bring forth persons who work to rebuild the community. (At this point ERH tells the story of a Nazi speaking in the U.S. south, attempting to sell the idea of a dominant Aryan race. Dissention in the community was quelled by a senior citizen reminding listeners how, historically, peace had been maintained by people of good will.  The citizens responded by escorting the Nazi out of town.

To create peace, at each instance of a threat, “citizens” must invent a solution that may never have been thought of before. THEREFORE, ONE OF THE CONSTANTS OF PEACE IS A WILLINGNESS TO BE INVENTIVE. “You will only make peace if you can do something that is not prescribed by your instructions…” (p.24)


Lecture 3

1.ERH begins this lecture by identifying the basis for understanding, explaining why three lectures are a minimum.  One must have time to think and ask questions.  Understanding never really comes before there is first mis-understanding. [RF – My own experience has taught me that, corrective action only occurs where there has been adequate time and discussion to articulate the root problems. Only then can solutions be discussed.  It seems to be the norm that solutions are discussed first, which, of course, never bears fruit.]

2.There seems to be little understanding of the importance of time, and of timing. We have educational programs run by the clock – and thus all that can be measured is some quantity of memorization.  Serious issues cannot begin to be comprehended in less than 3 months. AND MORE LASTING TRUTH ONLY AFTER 3 GENERATIONS. THEN ONE CAN KNOW IF PEACE HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED. Only after persons from a generation have been replaced, and the spirit has been transmitted and interpreted by others.

3.Peace is the form in which transitions between people can take place without”shaking” the old order. He cites the example of Indira Gandhi, whose relationship to a past respected leader allowed a transition in which there would be no bloodshed.


…would mean that your children would be barbarians, and would upset everything you have created or you have done.  And this danger is very large. …The danger is that all the good there is discarded, in favor for the latest news. (p.5)

In other words, time treated as a commodity to be banked is a curse, but this is the most common way people view it. Time (social time, psychological time, not the time of the physicist) is not the sum of moments.  It has fits and starts, interruptions, moments when important things happen (historical moments), and time when nothing happens of significance in the community.

5.Important tasks must be addressed for community survival in the long run. And for this to happen, only a few people need to know what is necessary ahead of time, even though the rest of the community does not understand.  THIS IS WHAT LEADERSHIP IS! This is the stuff of prophets and fulfillment.  ERH cites the example of Jesus, who was perhaps the only person who understood the significance (necessity) of his crucifixion.

6.ERH suggests, therefore, that these significant events in human history are not natural, but supernatural. They  are not assured.  For instance, animals naturally perform incest. But human tribes early on discovered that this would destroy the tribe; thus, he asserts the first law of the tribe. History has little to do with nature; the human and holy spirits know the ends.

And mankind is “the strange animal” that is allowed to make mistakes, because when he acts rightly (for the community), he is forgiven his sins. ( This is the true meaning of the concept of redemption.)

This is another reason why three generations are necessary to establish what is significant truth. We seldom if ever know the fruits of our own efforts.  One good test for identifying significance  is when our children and grand children tell others to follow our prescriptions!.  SO DON’T LOOK FOR ANY LASTING RESULTS OF YOUR WORK IN YOUR LIFE-TIME.

7.We often fail from the sin of impatience.  And when the going gets tough, when we believe all we have done has failed, perhaps the only thing we can do is to develop (in ourselves and our clients) a strong spirit to survive and begin again or carry on when time permits.

Another source of sin is our failure to address only what is our own business, what is our charge, and our authority to carry out?  The guide to our actions must always begin with an understanding of the problem at hand, or it that is not known, to begin to articulate the problem. Agreement on this is a primary step in articulating our authority. -16

8.These type of social problems test our claim to creativity, because our very survival depends upon their being addressed.  Sewer systems are a technical problem, obtaining agreement of citizens, even thought they may not like the solution, is a social problem.

9.Our society, dominated as it is almost solely by commercial attitudes (where important projects are determined by what they cost rather than by a realization of what must be done) is contemptible, because it diminishes the community.