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

Lectures 1-6
Feringer notes
Last edited: 10-98


Lecture – 1

1.Universal history must rest on several premises: 1) the unity of all humans, 2) the evolution of fundamental attitudes toward the world  (i.e. who is man and what is his place in the world?),  and 3) attitudes and values likely to create a community voluntarily at peace.  These questions unify all movements and concepts of reality throughout history.  What we learn from a universal history is how we might regenerate our communities, unify the world, and create a society that will allow mankind to survive physically and grow spiritually.

2.ERH identifies four  basic sets of concepts, sources of our knowledge about reality: 1) tribal (pre-Homeric), 2) the great “sky” empires of Egypt, China, Babylon, etc., 3) Greek (beginning with Homer), and 4) Jewish. ERH sees each of these four  as important, but incomplete in itself.   Christianity  integrates these four approaches into a unity.

3.Tribal cultures taught us to look to the past as authority for guidance. This was called by anthropologists “ancestor worship.”

4.Empires, so-called discovered through star observations, that there was order in the universe, and thus created the foundation for science.

5.Greek philosophy mainly encompasses 1) mind, which we call intellect, 2) will, and 3) sentiment.  These three-mind, will, sentiment – are the gods of Greek thinking. The will wants, the intellect defines, and feeling sentimentalizes the environment. (p.3/1) These are the gods called humanism.  Will deals with things “outside”, love deals with the people who follow us, creating future.  Love and will are mutually exclusive. Will makes you a god, while love causes you to give yourself to others.  Will is management, and  love is mutual inspiration. THE GREEK MIND IS ONE‑SIDED INDIVIDUALISM. dominated by the male.  (p.7/1)

The Greek is at home away from home, e.g. in today’s jargon “at the office.”  Today, both man and wife are away from home, uprooted.  Thus, the suppression of feminine consciousness and preoccupation with Greek thought encourages homosexualist’s, break-up of the home, divorce, etc.

6.Jewish belief, supports the voice of prophecy and  the gods of Jewish thinking are love, hope, and faith. The soul is between hope and faith. Hope defines the future in terms of what knowledge from the past needs to continue, in addition to our present state of insights about what should change from the present. Faith  puts the future above the past, divesting oneself of definitions, (p.3/1)  Love is the arbiter between hope and faith – it tells you how much love balances naive hope against overstating faith.    Here the wife and daughter are  “…prominent features of the soul.” (p.7)  Their faith in the future is the major quality of the female soul.  TO THE GREEK MIND, TEMPERANCE, JUSTICE, AND COURAGE ARE UNDERSTANDABLE, WHILE FAITH, LOVE AND HOPE ARE, UN-UNDERSTANDABLE.  (p.10)

Who gets up in the morning because he is intelligent!? Rather it is because he’s full of hope.  Why work?  Because one loves one’s family.  Why go into politics? [RF – in the best sense of the word!]  Because one has faith in the future.

“…love is only possible (necessary?) because of our deficiencies.”  (p.13)

“Nature” tends toward advantages, favoring that which has more sun-light, is stronger, has more money, etc.   HUMANISM IS BASED ON WHAT IS “NATURAL” (on that which is external in the world). CHRISTIANITY IS BASED ON OUR DEFICIENCIES  (that which is “internal”).

7.Christianity,  “…is that institution which has tried to reconcile the Greek mind and the Jewish soul.  Christianity is a synthesis of antiquity, and it had to reconcile tribe, empire, Homer, and the prophets…..We today have to create out of the Christian experience the mind and the soul’s experiences.” (p.13)

Some crucial distinctions can be summarized in terms of three basic attitudes toward life, to wit: 1) The Greek believes all reality is  in the world and is natural, and one must adjust to it. 2) The Jews believe man is a sinner and eventually goes to God (out of the world).  3) The Christian believes he comes from God (out of the world), and enters  the world to create community. Thus, he needs to be reborn, re-incarnated,  regenerated, and changed each day.

The Christian is born every day.  The Jew leaves the world every day. The Greek adjusts himself to the world with the help of mutual recognition. …The Christian takes it upon himself to return to this world, and to encounter it. (p.15)

Obviously all three are necessary elements to living.

There is a paradox between allegiance and non-allegiance.  Clearly we need both, which Christianity recognizes.  Tribal and “empire” life had only one allegiance and possessed unity, but no freedom.  The Greek and Jew had other allegiances, but difficulty in unity.  Christianity attempts to unify these by causing revolution (change) each day.

Such revolution presents constant difficulties (paradoxes) as we experience  life.  In revolution,  the law must be changed.  On the other hand, woe be unto he to breaks the law.

Lecture 2

1.MULTIFORMITY.  The Roman says, once a Roman, always a Roman.  The Jew says the same about Judaism. The Christian says, we are all of these things, Romans (when in Rome…), Jews (with a soul) , but the Greek (with a mind/will/sentiment) depending upon the situation and need.

2.ANTI-CHRIST means man sees himself as god, and in so doing is against the brotherhood of man. (p.2/2)  Christianity attempts to unify – one humanity, one human race.

3.Each of the four  –  tribe, empire, Greek, Jew – is an approach to humanity.  Christianity, in attempting to unify these,  says the world is outside man because it is man’s soul that determines his “confronting” of the world, and he has the freedom to decide at each moment what course to take (of the four).

4.ACHIEVEMENT BY INDIRECTION.  “…to achieve anything in life, you must never aim at it.  It must always be the by-product of your highest aim.” (p.4)  Americans, ERH claims, are constantly unhappy because they seek happiness directly.  Unless we are willing to sacrifice self-interest we will never achieve it.  “He who wants to have a soul will lose it; and the man who is ready to lose his soul, will gain it.”  (p.5)

If you can admit that something is true, it is against everything you are interested in, then the truth will hit you.  Then you begin to live. (p.6)

5.Christianity and social unit,. mean  not only one human family over the world (treating, with equal concern, all people), but also unity through time, “…from the beginning of time to the end.” (p.7)

6.Surviving through time.  As individuals we must learn to survive through time.  Could we survive the end of the United States and still feel strong?  We must be willing to do this,  then to work to re-establish the spirit of the U.S. Thus, ERH left Germany and said to himself he could no longer be a German.  All immigration implies this choice. “Every man in the Christian era has a double allegiance.  He has to give God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” (p.9)

7.ON CHRISTIANITY AND DEATH;  “…Christianity is always based on a four-fold death.”  This is to say that in order to create a decent community and change and grow, one must be willing to sacrifice, or let go of certain things; 1) One must be willing to die for a cause, or to let go of his personal aims,  2) to let go of our government, 3) to let go of the boundaries of our region, and 4) to let go to the “…spirit of his own day, of his own time.”  (p.10)

8.ERH claims that today we are in a position where Christianity has lost its hold on the country. Christianity has lost sight of its aims, its spirit.

9.Christianity in the first 1,000 years  was established by the actions of four great monks. Jerome, who established that God’s word was not only in a single language, that it could and should be translated, and continue so in every generation.

Anthony said that not only Egypt’s fertile valley was “God’s country,” but the whole earth (he lived in the desert.)

Augustine taught us to go beyond the boundaries of the empire. Christianity was universal. God’s world and Caesar’s are different.  “Give unto Caesar…”

Athanasious was a revolutionary, against the government, against emperor gods.

Through these men, the evidence, validity, and philosophy  of Christianity was established.

Lecture 3

1.Modern humanism is impotent because it analyzes, and criticizes,but  then fails to act.   Anthony, St.Augustine, Jerome, and Athanasius were powerful for Christianity because they did act; they did sacrifice. THIS WAS WHY THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTIANITY COULD CARRY BEYOND AND RISE ABOVE THE TIMES.

2.”…the West is in decline, and that only the planet can revive it.  (p.2)  By this ERH means that  the West can revive only if it learns from the rest of the planet.  [RF, certainly the decline of U.S. credibility and power in the rest of the world confirms this notion expressed 25 years ago.]

3.We are born into a hostile world,  which we must come to love.  [RF – if we are to survive and create peace.]  We must love all of the world, that is, even the unlovable elements. The meaning of THE CITY OF GOD  is that belief in God’s world is essential to helping us through the dark night of this world’s experiences.  We must have faith that this can occur.  This is what is meant by getting outside time and space by means of our faith. [RF – dreams would be an example of “outside time and space.”]

4.Every generation in the Christian era depends upon reincarnations of the assertions of Jerome, Augustine, Anthony and Athanasius. (p.10)  (That is, someone in each generation should make these acts manifest in their own way.)  The 19th century literary figure, Herman Melville, in his novel , MOBY DICK created a metaphor for reincarnating these four acts.

The four evangelists speak to four different points. 1)Matthew spoke to non-Jews, writing against the Hebrews, the 12 tribes.  2) Mark wrote  against the Egyptians and their star worship, 3) Luke addressed the Greeks, relating their philosophy to its place in Christianity. And lastly, John spoke to the Christian converts. ALL TOOK ACTION, just as did the four after them, in 300 AD.

The church tries to help everyone acquire the power to get outside time and space. (p.13) [RF – If I understand this concept correctly, it means living not according to the mores of one’s own time, but the mores that ought to come true in the future.]

5.How does one acquire this power? Only by contagion, by example and in fellowship. One protects another; one has a place to flee when persecuted.

6.The second millennium is the era of revolutions against the four distortions of ancestor worship, star worship, poetry and systems worship, and prophecy worship; each was important but incomplete in itself.  (p.14)

These revolutions were replaced by the concept of “world” as one world. ERH claims the second millennium repeats the feats of the great empires in that it developed modern science. The 19th century was the age of domination of modern scientific thinking.

7.In the third millennium, we must now re-establish tribal interpersonal relations, but extend  them throughout the world. This will take the place of the tribes of antiquity, re-establishing the family of man on a global scale.

8.Six revolutions must be reincarnated each generation. During the  second millennium, the first three of these revolutions were instigated by monks who re-entered the world to become revolutionaries, Pope Gregory VII, St. Francis of Assisi, and Martin Luther. The second three were gentlemen who re-entered the world to become revolutionaries,  Cromwell, Napoleon and Lenin.

In short, all power in this world corrupts and must be opposed by a “Spiritual sword.” (p.19)    Gregory VII thus led the church into social action for the purpose of separating the spiritual role of rulers from that of spiritual leadership.  This was the inception of the movement to separate  church from state.

St. Francis freed us from oppression by proposing rotation of governments.  Luther freed us from oppression of church corruption and established “the nobility of the professional man.” (p.20)

Then came the three secular revolutions, English  (Cromwell and the right of citizens to bear arms), French/American and Russian all of which were universal revolutions.  The English limited the king’s powers, the French established universal civil rights, and the Russian,  limited industrial monopolies in their  move toward total control over  production.


1)Lasting and positive change in  the world can only be achieved when built on a foundation of          spiritual power,   because the physical powers of the world cannot correct themselves .  Society can only be moved by pressures from the outside itself.

2)  Every secular power must be short-lived.

3) Action in the physical world is always in motion, either expanding or retracting, but never static. These revolutions represent that which left to themselves, always oppress. Gregory VII mitigated the power of emperors by making the church a counter political power. St. Francis countered the hereditary power of the state by insisting it be transient, even within the formal church organization. Luther fought corruption within the church and dignified the professional man.

4)The English, French,  and Russian revolutions were world revolutions as well. Cromwell introduced the right to bear arms against the state, or for the state to maintain a professional army.

Gregory said the worldly powers must be opposed by spiritual power. The world never moves by itself; we all must be motivated and our tendency is to remain static, stable.  God and saints are prime movers.

10.All movements (revolutions) try to make things revolve, while kept in balance.  The heroes of the second millennium are not saints, but revolutionaries. (p.24)

Lecture 4

1.The 2nd millennium of the Christian era tried to keep the achievement of the first millennium, the establishment of the church, and added to it the establishment of the “world” of mankind as a unit, where kings are no better than aristocrats, aristocrats no better than gentry, and gentry no better than commoners. And to accomplish this meant a rotation of roles in all countries. The high may fall, and the low may rise,  no person should “own” another.

2.Progress toward such goals is the aim of all revolutions.  Gregory, St. Francis, Luther, Cromwell, Napoleon, Lenin are examples Revolutionary people.   Gregory VII conceived the church as a world organization. (p.3)

3.The church is to be the builder of the spirit, which is the inner strength to stand up against all things material to the extent that materialism gets in the way. To create a good society takes spiritual strength.

The world is transitory, the spirit is everlasting.

ERH points out, through history,  how these revolutions have been fought to reflect the ideas for progress and freedom.

4.ERH also makes a powerful and convincing statement as to why we must learn more than one language,  to get “outside” our own culture,  as a sort of addendum for method in all of this. The core principle stated here is that to learn another language allows us to see ourselves to some extent as others see us.  And it keeps us from becoming too nationalistic or isolationist.

5.ERH expounds on and excoriates the notion of “liberalism” because it eulogizes thought as separate from language, as though thought were possible without language. LANGUAGE, real speech, speech about important matters is powerful, potent and potentially dangerous,  and may get one into trouble when acted upon. Liberals have a reputation of thinking only, but not acting – as academics tend to do!

The “liberal” attitude, in the process of discounting language, DOES NOT TAKE SERIOUSLY THE RABBLE ROUSERS, who by definition, often practice zealotry:

All the liberals end in nationalism.  The sons of the liberals have all become Nazis, in Germany.  The end of a liberal is always that his son becomes a fascist.  (p.17)

The core of the idea is that rationalism becomes an organizing principle. But, when there is minor anarchy, when there are many minorities, and many languages,  no one can conquer.  By implication, if  the liberals organize, then we cannot be conquered by rabble rousers. (p.18)

I firmly believe that the intellect has run away with Marxians, and that anybody who lives out of the intellect is always, remains sterile.  Marxism is a thought-out revolutionary theory, and therefore will bear no fruit….this time the war itself is the revolution….And the intentionally made revolution is child’s play compared to that.  …Revolution..is civil war…Now when a whole world is at war the only peace you can make is for the world…the real revolution…is planetary man versus national man. (pp.20-21)

6.The second millennium was devoted to revolution, to the rotation of governments. The church (universal) has been established. The physical world has been discovered.  WHAT IS YET UNDISCOVERED IN THE 3RD MILLENNIUM?  ERH’s firm answer is “mankind,” the re-establishment of the family, the tribal family to become universalized from the tribe.

The world revolution began with the Russian revolution in 1917 after WWI , and ended with the Russian revolution at the end of WW II.

“…we are now in the midst of living in one world, but not one family.  And therefore we are all divided in our loyalty.  Every one of us two parties….Man is ambivalent. (RF – multiform)  He has more than one valence.  And he must be occupied, and he must be able, you see, to operate a switchboard.  (p.25)

The revolutions of the past 1,000 years also revolutionized family relations Families are now fragmented, as members no longer work together on the farm.  “The relation of the human family…is no longer possible on the principle of world revolutions.” (p.26)   This must be carried out in the context of work and love.

Lecture 5

5/1To summarize up to this point: Since Christianity, we have discovered the  four “horizons,” or traps, or approaches to the world:  1) the tribe looking for guidance from ancestors, 2) the empire, looking for guidance from the stars, 3) the Jews, looking for guidance from the prophets,  and 4) Homeric man.

The tribe looks backward, Israel looks forward, the empire creates an  eternal presence neither past nor future (i.e. outside world of scientific description), and the Greeks create a poetical world of inner space, of comparisons and metaphors,  seeing man existing on both the outer world and the inner world of thought. [RF – How fundamental can one get? Here is the model for the new social science in a nutshell – all experience exposed to analysis in terms of time and space!]

CHRISTIANITY recognizes all four, but asserts that we must unify them, choosing the right approach in each different circumstance. The new Testament, therefore, is not an empty phrase! [RF – In other essays he puts Christianity at “the center of history” – i.e. the basis for understanding our experience is now completely articulated.]

5/2Since the “ancients” were each trapped in the peculiarities of their own method, from which they couldn’t escape, they were limited.

Existentialists recognize the changing flux of the human spirit. They  “…are the first philosophers who are not humanists.” (p.2)

3.With the fragmentation of the family,the members work and live in different places,  and thereby have lost their ability to understand each other because they have such apparent differences in their  experiences. They have lost their unity, their common ground, and therefore their ability to understand each other.

4.The Christian world created one God, one world, and now must create one society.

5.In the past the dichotomy was between believers in the true God and false  gods. It is well established that there is one God, and many lesser gods that drive us (desire, hunger, greed, fear, sex, etc.).

TODAY, people are divided between believing in one God or in atheism. As with the “gods” issue, we are not of a single mind, at times  believers and at times not.

The atheist finds order (unity) in the world.  The theist finds order in God.

6.Atheism and theism are corollaries; “All Christian faith is intermittent.” (p.8)  This is logical, because if we were God, we would never doubt ourselves.  But since we do, we know that we are not.  So at times we are believers and at times not.  At times we are creative, and at times not.

“How does man then solve this paradox?  By fellowship.  When one man grows weak, and he is an atheist, others hold out, have faith,  and carry him.  In any family, that’s true.  If one person has a nervous breakdown, the others are able to take care of him. Christianity says, `One man, atheist; fellowship, theist’…..if you try to think out God all by yourself, you must end in atheism.  Because nobody in his five senses can proclaim that he does believe in God  24 hours a day. (p.8)  (For instance, why do good people fail and foul people prosper? One cannot make sense from such experience.)

7.The mind cannot stabilize the world permanently. [RF –  that is, by following heros or dogmas, or losing oneself in art.]   Christianity is against idealism, although most Christians  consider themselves idealists.

The Greek humanists, believing the world is good, true, and beautiful, then say, “To live a good life get to know the world,” e.g.  discover the concrete world.  (p.12)    HOWEVER, WHEN PEOPLE  DO THAT THEY DO NOT FIND HAPPINESS.

Modern scientists (post-Einstein) see the world as not necessarily good, but merely “probable.”  Probability theory and chaos theory underlie  all modern science. While scientists see the “one world,”  it is neither true, good,  nor necessarily beautiful according to this view.  ERH claims  they therefore accept the same side as the theists.

All scientists see the world as ordered, and mechanical,  and therefore seek to discover its laws of order. That is, they see it as mechanical up to a point.  BUT THE HUMAN SPIRIT AND MAN’S INNER WORLD OF THOUGHT IS NOT MECHANICAL, IT IS UNFATHOMABLE.

Christian thought accepts the world as it is (one world and chaotic), teaching us to survive it, and make it as decent a place to live as possible.

8.Science isn’t interested in the goodness or badness of the world;  it merely describes it. There is, in fact, much evil in society,  e.g.  crime, greed, avarice, cowardliness, weakness.   HAD THE SOCIAL WORLD NOT CONSTANTLY REGENERATED ITSELF IT WOULD HAVE DESTROYED ITSELF LONG AGO.


10.One of the great paradoxes is the nature of mankind as an individual.  Man  the individual is not just individual, he is multiform (husband/wife, working group member, community member) also, and because of his weaknesses and new problems that society presents, he must constantly change, or be reborn, to use the fundamentalists term. (p.14)   And to be a group member, one must give up some individuality!

11.To prepare for the future one must give up something in the present, just as to attain and maintain good health one must watch one’s diet at every meal time.


13.Because problem solving socially takes varying lengths of time, movements  (causes) must continue for several generations if need be.

Lecture 6

1.ERH asks, What is a major problem of modern industrial, technological society?  It is disintegrating groups and individuals by fragmentation and too much change,  change for the sake of change, so to speak. “Modern industrial society `atomizes’ society,” said Martin Buber.  Too much change, too often, never leaves  time for any action to become stabilized or understood.

Modern man disintegrates, because he is forced by technological progress “…to leave his allegiances in an endless sequence.” (p.1)

The disintegration of the family is a major case in point.  [RF –  the family is strongest, in general,  in third world countries or in peasant societies that have been least touched by technology.)  “Modern man is a new type of nomad.  (p.2)

Another question (problem) of the 3rd millennium is, “Where can man put down roots?”  Is man to consider the entire world his community, and is there to be a spiritual home?

2.The crusade of science, of nature against empire,  to create one world has also created the untenable fragmentation of society and of the individual, both pulled in too many opposing directions.  How then are we to find ourselves in it?  How are we to re-organize our concept of society so that we can regain some stability and with it our sanity and ability to grow?

“…the human person cannot be contained by the world, because the world operates on us as a fragmentation bomb.” (p.5)

3.The rootedness of people in the 3rd millennium must be in time, not in space.  (p.7)   Friendships, speaking honestly and thoughtfully to people (all people), building lasting relationships, looking at situations historically so that one knows what has led up to the present and what needs to be carried on in the future – this was the way of the ancient tribes who were nomads,  not rooted in space!.  (p.8)

Another example of living in a time perspective would be to live in a way that one’s children of the family (or the younger generation in general) would recognize you as someone to follow, as their true parents! (p.14)   [RF – Indeed! My own father died when I was nine years old, and I never knew him nor did I find a surrogate. To be instructed by, and accept the values of the preceding generation is to be rooted, to belong, to feel at home. I felt adrift, spiritually, for many years.]

The ancients lived life “intensively” (fully), but they were exclusive and therefore fought endless wars (as we still do, of course). Today, we are pulled in so many directions we have lost the art of living fully; our attentions are enormously diluted.  We are much more inclusive of many cultures in the world.  BUT WHAT WE NEED IS INCLUSIVENESS AS WELL AS INTENSITY. And now we must concentrate on continuing our inclusiveness, but also work on living life more fully.

There is a great deal of indifference in the world.  Somehow, in the 3rd millennium, we must regain some passion about our work, greater “intensity” in what we do.  “We have made the `thing’  inclusive today.  The problem obviously is to make it intensive, too.” (p.9)

4.Perhaps we have some intensity about the wrong things.  There is a tendency today to backslide into past modes of operation.  Slavery in the South revived an ancient custom of the Greeks and others. Today in many countries there exist  near-slave conditions.

This backsliding appears to save resources.  [RF, what might be forgotten are the  other social problems something like a revival of slavery would cause.]  ERH suggests that projects must  today be built by free men, and yet be beautiful, and yet express the spirit of the times. He refers to architecture as an example, but this term seems to be a metaphor for all activities.  (p.10)

5.We need to keep an eye on the past (but not revive its mistakes), in order to go forward.

6.In the third millennium, we must re-establish the family,  in part by expressing our care for someone, by naming their accomplishments.  Today we suffer from anonymity.  To speak to others and express ourselves thoughtfully, caringly, and honestly,  is to set down roots in the human family.

By mutuality.  We nominate each other.  Nobody nominates you without your nominating him…As father and mother, and brother and sister only co-exist in correlation, nobody can be a brother except for another brother or sister….Very simple. It’s, after all, mutual embrace. (p.15)

…man – as man belongs only to the family because somebody looks at him… To God we pray…the world we observe; and we nominate each other, we talk to each other.  But we cannot talk to each other without giving  each other our title, our name, our place in time.  (p.16)

7.In general, ERH summarizes our social and psychological problems today and suggests how these trends can be changed to re-establish a single society in the world, fighting against the disintegrating influence of technology.

…fruitfulness is the criterion of love…If you wish to overcome mere technical progress and its consequential re-arrangement of nomads into disintegrating particles, you have to try to make them bear fruit through love. Now the simplest word for this would be `reincarnation. (p.19)

8.Human beings cannot be “handled” as other things in space.  Why? Because we are part spirit, which is not in space. “Human beings cannot be left alone, and cannot be handled.” (p.21)

9.In the third millennium, we must learn to break down the barriers to differences, but also maintain those differences.  There would be, “…no physicians, and no observers, and no philosophers.  But there are only partners, members.”

[RF – To observe is to be detached. To be separated from others is to be detached.  To philosophize is to generalize and therefore to be detached.]

10.”In the future  “…all human beings can only have adjectives, and not nouns as their signifying mark.”  In the 2nd millennium, man was recognized as something, as doctor, professor, plumber.  THESE ARE NOUNS.  In the 3rd millennium, we must address people as individuals. NAMES ARE DIFFERENT FROM NOUNS.  Names are specific, while nouns describe a general class of things. (p.24)

Universal History – 1949 – Review

This series of lectures covers many of the themes addressed in the 1967 lecture series,  that is, the crucial lessons all of mankind must learn from history.  However, in this series the author summarizes,  with a much more intensive analysis, the problems of our times and what is to be done in the third millennium if humane communities are to be re-established.  What characterizes our times?  Fragmentation of social groups (communities whose commonality is the sewer or water system), domination by scientific thinking unmoderated by ethical judgments, social indifference, subjection to too-rapid change  engendered by technology,  all of which keeps us constantly off balance.  Instability is rampant.  He then outlines some principles  he believes would  re-establish our sense of community.