Heinrich Heine’s pantheism brought together identification with sensual antiquity, irreverence toward institutional religion, an original outlook on German philosophy, and a radically modern literary sensibility. In the wake of the “pantheism controversy” of 1785-9, like several of his predecessors, Heine identified Baruch Spinoza’s philosophy with pantheism in the sense of God as nature, the “absolute” of German idealism. Willi Goetschel emphasized the modernity of Spinoza’s liberal political outlook underlying Jewish emancipation in German culture extending through Heine. Yet we should also recognize Spinoza’s implicit rejection of a personal (Judaeo-Christian) God. Elaborating on the initiative of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, who likewise embraced Spinoza’s pantheism, Heine’s pantheism challenged philosophy through poetry and prose, but was more provocative and polemical than Goethe’s, inextricable from Heine’s conflicted Jewish subject position. Heine’s pantheism was bound up with the waning of (the Judaeo-Christian) God as a literary and cultural fact, rather a philosophical proposition. From Heine’s aesthetic perspective we can best understand Friedrich Nietzsche’s “gay science” or joyful wisdom of philosophy and his pronouncement of “the death of God.” This Heine-oriented interpretation can be contrasted with the more accepted views of Nietzsche among philosophers influenced in large part by the controversial Martin Heidegger.
Alex Soros is the Founder of the Alexander Soros Foundation, Global Board Member of the Open Society Foundations, Advisory Board Member of Global Witness, Board Member of Bend the Arc and Board Member of the Central European University in Budapest. In 2015 and 2016 he was Guest at the IWM.