Friedrich Oetinger and the Quest for Anarchist Utopia

EXAMINING the roots of Friedrich Schelling’s (1775-1854) thought led me to a Swabian Pietist by the name of Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782), someone I would describe as a proto-anarchist. I have already discussed how G.W.F. Hegel’s (1770-1931) own expression of German Idealism led him to present his modified Christian beliefs in the form of the Absolute State and Karl Marx (1818-1883), as one of the left-leaning members of the Young Hegelians, later stripped Hegel’s dialectics of their spiritual components altogether and replaced Absolute Idealism with his own dictatorship of the proletariat.

As a Lutheran theologian, Oetinger’s roots also lay in Protestantism but unlike the state capitalism that would rise under the auspices of communism more than a century later, his own beliefs were based on self-determination and anti-authoritarianism.

Strongly influenced by the esotericism of Jacob Böhme (1575-1624), Oetinger ministered to a smattering of local separatist communities that often found themselves on the receiving end of religious intolerance and these included Christian mystics and Jewish kabbalists. Like the English dissenters, The Philadelphians, Oetinger came to accept the idea of apocatastasis, or the notion that all people would eventually receive salvation. He also had a keen interest in the ideas of his Swedish contemporary, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), and translated a number of his works.

By way of the five-volume Sämtliche Schriften, which was published some eighty years after his death, Oetinger spoke of a Golden Age of social order that would be founded on the principle of co-ownership and that this would mean that people had no need for any kind of obligation to one another, for if everything were superabundant, there would be

no need for government or property, bonds of constraint imposed by power; everyone would be disposed to lend a hand to each other, in case of need, without obligation; everyone would be content to barter and no form of money would be in use.

Oetinger’s belief that the world had drifted away from its paradisaical origins as a result of the Fall, resulting in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, led him to believe that it was possible to re-establish an earthly utopia and that

at the time of the Golden Age, equality and power, co-ownership of goods and property without any question, exemption from all servitude and obligation and attachment for work and slavery will be so arranged that, for the very least, community property and freedom from servitude and contracts will be supreme in all things.

The fundamental human quality capable of cementing these new communities together, he explained, is that of affection and mutual respect. Oetinger, anticipating the concept of anarcho-monarchism, even believed that this could be achieved within the framework of a German kingdom and that

the law will no longer serve as power exercised by violence, but as free government by love, not for the usurpation which is single ownership, but for communal sharing, not for imposed servitude, but for the communal operation of the kingdom and mutual aid […] There will no longer be written law; the secrets of Holy Scripture and the reasoning of the priests will make decisions instead of the civil laws. Consequently, all the causes of vanity of which Solomon speaks will be eliminated; and in all things true happiness will be enjoyed, if not in a paradisical manner, at least in the greatest love.

To a certain extent, Oetinger’s vision amounts to a kind of decentralised theocracy, although in the absence of coercion this all seems well and good. One might even say that Oetinger presents a third way beyond the imposition of both Hegelian statism and Marxist materialism.

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