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University of California Press
The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology / Edition 1

The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology / Edition 1

by Fritz Stern
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This is a study in the pathology of cultural criticism. By analyzing the thought and influence of three leading critics of modern Germany, this study will demonstrate the dangers and dilemmas of a particular type of cultural despair. Lagarde, Langbehn, and Moeller van den Bruck-their active lives spanning the years from the middle of the past century to the threshold of Hitler's Third Reich-attacked, often incisively and justly, the deficiencies of German culture and the German spirit. But they were more than the critics of Germany's cultural crisis; they were its symptoms and victims as well. Unable to endure the ills which they diagnosed and which they had experienced in their own lives, they sought to become prophets who would point the way to a national rebirth. Hence, they propounded all manner of reforms, ruthless and idealistic, nationalistic and utopian. It was this leap from despair to utopia across all existing reality that gave their thought its fantastic quality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520026261
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/07/1974
Series: California Library Reprint Series
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 367
Sales rank: 990,130
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Fritz Richard Stern is an American historian of German history, Jewish history, and historiography. He is a University Professor Emeritus and a former provost at New York's Columbia University.

Table of Contents


I. Paul de Lagarde and a Germanic Region
1. The Critic as Academician
2. The Idealism of Antimodernity
3. The Germanic Religion
4. The Germanic Nation
5. The Corruption of German Education
6. The Prophet Remembered

II. Julius Langbehn and Germanic Irrationalism
7. The Critic as a Failure
8. Art and the Revolt against Modernity
9. Art, Politics, and the Heroic Folk
10. Langbehm and the Crisis of the 1890's

III. Moeller van den Bruck and the Third Reich
11. The Critic as Exile
12. The Esthete's Turn to Politics
13. The Conscience of the Right
14. Toward the Third Reich

Conclusion: From Idealism to Nihilism

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The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
kant1066 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A culture produces its most ardent, strident critics at times of extreme tumult and change. In ¿The Politics of Cultural Despair,¿ Fritz Stern details precisely one of those extended periods, from around the middle of the nineteenth century in Germany through the Weimar Republic. He looks at the lives and work of three people who have been largely forgotten today ¿ Paul Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, and Moeller van den Bruck ¿ whose modes of cultural criticism eschewed liberal, parliamentary politics and adduced ways of imagining a mystical German future which would reinvigorate the Volk. The first critic discussed is Paul de Lagarde (1827 ¿ 1891), a brilliant philologist and Biblical scholar, especially of the Septuagint, and polyglot. The biographical sketch that Stern offers paints a less-than-desirable picture of Lagarde. His prodigious talents were not unaccompanied by enormous ambition, and he often blamed his colleagues for the academic projects he was unable to complete. He was a sociopath, a snob, and a prig, all of which seem to be character traits of everyone considered in the book. Later in his career, Lagarde passionately took up cultural criticism, thinking that Germany was headed for permanent destruction. Everywhere he looked, he saw only decline, with a secular, Mammon-worshipping state replacing traditional German values; to replace it, he favored a kind of nationalistic ¿heroic vitalism¿ that eschewed mushy, bourgeois liberalism. He was a thoroughgoing idealist who insisted that will and character (Nietzsche and Schopenhauer reappear throughout the book in varying interpretations and misinterpretations) predominated over all else, even the corrupt German political apparatus. Lagarde proposed a solution in which the Greek, Roman, and Jewish ¿elements¿ were extirpated from the Bible, and from middle-class German Protestantism, in an attempt to create a religion of the future by synthesizing Biblical ideas with the indomitable German Geist or, as Stern calls it, ¿mystical nationalism with a Christian veneer.¿ His work in this vein would have him hailed as a prophet within his own lifetime. Julius Langbehn had many of the same critical concerns, and tried to suggest art as a fundamental savior. His 1890 book ¿Rembrandt als Erzieher¿ (¿Rembrandt as Educator¿) proposed Rembrandt as a kind of salvific figure who could re-teach Germany what true art was, especially its power to save obsolescent German culture. ¿He had sought a national rebirth through art, but art he regarded as synonymous with mysticism, and hence a form of religion. Rembrandt was the symbol of that reform, and resurrected prophet who could destroy the false art of naturalism and, by his example, prove that the goal of art was not the creation of beauty alone, but the attainment of the most sublime and fullest truth. In the search for that truth, Langbehn believed art and religion coincided, both alike mediating between man and the divine¿ (p. 112-113). Langbehn also despised science and rationalism because he perceived them to be soulless, demonstrable, and positivistic. He thought that a mind before education and science was at its most creative, and called for a return to German Kindlichkeit (childlike nature) and Volksthumlichkeit (¿folksiness¿). Langbehn thought that a focus on art as a means of spiritual realization was the answer to Germany¿s problems. Moeller van den Bruck, author of the well-known ¿Das Dritte Reich,¿ continued the themes outlined by Lagarde, Langbehn, and others before them. He idealized the mores and folkways of Prussia, thinking them better than the decadent ones of Germany; many of these ideas, perhaps contrary to what Moeller actually wanted, led to the mythical idea of the Third Reich. In the face of Germany¿s staggering and unexpected defeat in World War I, and the harsh impositions of Versailles, Moeller turned himself to the creation of a group of soi-disant Jungkonservativen (young conservativ