Troeltsch’s Social Teaching: The Legitimation of Social Inequality
The growing popularity of the German Social Democrats among Christian believers and the socialist appropriation of the earliest Christian traditions helps to explain why Ernst Troeltsch begins The Social Teaching with a polemic against the principle of class conflict. The crux of Troeltsch's reply to Karl Kautsky in The Social Teaching is to substitute the doctrine of "religious individualism" for the doctrine of communism as the heart of the gospel social ethic. While Kautsky viewed history as the evolution of social relations, Troeltsch viewed it more statically as an expression of nature. Troeltsch's dichotomy between the things of the spirit and things of the world provides a context for understanding his argument that Kautsky allegedly reduces religion to social causes. Troeltsch's analysis, however, subordinates the class dimension to a realist/utopian dimension predicated on a view of social inequality as natural and inevitable.