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Co-auteur: Wolf Lepenies. Samenvatting During the Allied bombing of Germany, Hitler was more distressed by the loss of cultural treasures than by the leveling of homes. Remarkably, his propagandists broadcast this fact, convinced that it would reveal not his callousness but his sensitivity: the destruction had failed to crush his artist's spirit.

It is impossible to begin to make sense of this thinking without understanding what Wolf Lepenies calls The Seduction of Culture in German History.

This fascinating and unusual book tells the story of an arguably catastrophic German habit--that of valuing cultural achievement above all else and envisioning it as a noble substitute for politics. Lepenies examines how this tendency has affected German history from the late eighteenth century to today. He argues that the German preference for art over politics is essential to understanding the peculiar nature of Nazism, including its aesthetic appeal to many Germans and others and the fact that Hitler and many in his circle were failed artists and intellectuals who seem to have practiced their politics as a substitute form of art.

The seduction of culture in German history /Wolf Lepenies. – National Library

In a series of historical, intellectual, literary, and artistic vignettes told in an essayistic style full of compelling aphorisms, this wide-ranging book pays special attention to Goethe and Thomas Mann, and also contains brilliant discussions of such diverse figures as Novalis, Walt Whitman, Leo Strauss, and Allan Bloom. The Seduction of Culture in German History is concerned not only with Germany, but with how the German obsession with culture, sense of cultural superiority, and scorn of politics have affected its relations with other countries, France and the United States in particular.

Toon meer Toon minder. Recensie s Lepenies's reflections on French-German and American-German culture wars suggest that cultural interpretation is as much a part of the social world as any social or political fact The substitution of culture for politics is a dangerous road to travel. Wolf Lepenies blames the catastrophes of 20th-century German politics on a tendency to overrate culture at the expense of politics.

Erudite and richly detailed, it traces the pathology of nationalist and cultural fixations, with implications for our own nervous and jingoistic age. Lepenies traces the evolution of the Kulturnation, a nation united by culture rather than by political institutions, from the 18th century, when it emerged in the absence of a central German reunification in Lepenies concludes with a cautiously optimistic view of Germans' reconciliation of culture and politics Highly recommended.

Lepenies excels Lepenies traces the evolution of the Kulturnation, a nation united by culture rather than by political institutions, from the 18th century, when it emerged in the absence of a central German state, until German reunification in Lepenies's book does just this.

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Reviews Schrijf een review. The word through which Germans interpret themselves, which more than any other expresses their pride in their own achievement and their own being, is Kultur. Whereas the French as well as the English concept of culture can also refer to politics and to economics, to technology and to sports, to moral and to social facts, the German concept of Kultur refers essentially to intellectual, artistic, and religious facts, and has a tendency to draw a sharp dividing line between facts of this sort, on the one side, and political, economic, and social facts, on the other.

Ultimately not only the German middle classes but Germany as a whole has distinguished itself by its cultural achievements and aspirations. This peculiar role of culture in German domestic as well as foreign policy is the theme of this book. I deal with the German seduction, the tendency to see in culture a noble substitute for politics, if not a better politics altogether.

Describing the antipolitical bias in the German notion of culture, Elias found it astonishing to see the persistence with which specific patterns of thinking, acting and feeling recur, with characteristic adaptations to new developments, in one and the same society over many generations. National character is a serious term, whereas attitude has a touch of irony in it—as in the term Anglo-Saxon attitudes, whose ironic undertone was apparent when Lewis Carroll coined it in Through the Looking Glass in and became even more visible when Angus Wilson used it as the title of his novel. The triumphant tone with which the Germans speak of culture, which only they possess, while the rest must make do with civilization, needs an equally, if not stronger, ironic distance.

This book examines the German attitude of regarding culture as a substitute for politics and of vilifying politics, understood above all as parliamentary politics, as nothing but an arena of narrow-minded, interest-group bargaining and compromise. But this work is not a debate on the Sonderweg special path in disguise, asserting that the aversion to politics and the idealist and romantic veneration of culture were the main reason why Germany departed from the normal Western course of development and steered into the disaster of Nazism.

I do not describe an attitude that is a uniquely German phenomenon.

The seduction of culture in German history / Wolf Lepenies.

Still, I argue that an overestimation of cultural achievements and a strange indifference to politics G. Gooch nowhere played a greater role than in Germany and have nowhere else survived to the same degree. Seeing culture as a substitute for politics has remained a prevailing attitude throughout German history—from the glorious days of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Weimar through, though now in considerably weaker form, the reunification of the two Germanys after the fall of communism.

I am revisiting their arguments and try to offer new insights into an old problem. In the area of domestic policy, I follow a roughly chronological pattern, beginning with the view of culture as a noble substitute for politics that originated in the heyday of Weimar classicism.

This distance toward parliamentary politics in the name of culture was one reason why the Weimar Republic did not secure the broad-based acceptance and emotional support of its citizens that could have prevented it from falling prey to the Nazis. I regard the aesthetic appeal first of fascism and then of National Socialism not as a superficial phenomenon of the most sinister period in German history, but as an important element in the attempt to explain the attractiveness of Nazi ideology for a large segment of the German bourgeoisie and many German writers, artists, and intellectuals.

And even for members of the intelligentsia in exile, the attitude of playing off culture against politics remained. After the Second World War, staying aloof from parliamentary politics on cultural grounds made less and less sense with the integration of the Federal Republic and eventually of a reunited Germany into the mainstream of Western democracies. Still, the tension between old cultural aspirations and new political realities helps to explain developments first in both German states and then, finally, in a country that no longer had to resign itself, as a consequence of a self-inflicted political catastrophe, to remaining solely a cultural nation, but found itself bestowed with the gift of a political reunion.

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In the area of foreign policy, I have concentrated on two case studies—along with a brief glance at Central Europe, where the various revolutions that did away with communism were hailed, at least for a while, as a victory of culture over politics. The first case study deals with the culture wars —a term, as far as I can tell, invented in France—that have been so important, throughout history, in shaping French German relations. The second case study addresses the interplay between German cultural legacies and American political traditions.

The chapter on European and American cultural patriotism is a coda to the German-American case study, an example of how loudly the debate over the relationship between culture and politics reverberates down to the European-American rift witnessed in the recent past. My account does not seek to compete with the well-established approaches of political and social history, and I have not tried to tell a continuous narrative in which the different periods of German history are neatly interwoven with one another.

I am aware of the limitations of my history-of-ideas approach. The Nazis were brought to power not so much by the aesthetic appeal of their rituals as by their pledge to restore German pride, their promise to limit the power of big corporations and to create jobs, and their appeal to widespread anti-Semitic feelings, among other reasons. After the war, the inner developments in the German Democratic Republic were also characterized by the cultural policy of its elites, but this policy depended on the continuous strategic interest of the Soviet Union in profiting from East Germany as a political and military glacis against the capitalist West.

In short, intellectual history is an addition, but no alternative, to social and political history.

Intellectual history is, to a considerable degree, the history of a small group only, the history of intellectuals. Only intellectuals themselves take the impact of intellectuals on the course of events for granted; the question whether and how their ideas were transmitted to a larger audience and what kind of influence they may eventually have exerted must often remain unanswered.

One might see in intellectual history or the history of ideas not much more than an ornament on the building of social and political history that could easily be removed from it. After removing it, though, the building would certainly not collapse but it would not be the same building anymore. Intellectual history is not a superficial but a useful adornment of political and social history, reminding us that human societies are characterized not just by what people do, but also by what people say and think they are doing.


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History is not only about what is happening, history is also about making sense. An attitude is an act of interpretation: it is a comment about what is happening or should happen in a society. This book describes an intellectual attitude that can be observed throughout German history: the overrating of culture at the expense of politics, especially in the sense of parliamentary politics.

Rather than telling a grand narrative, I will take my reader on a tour and draw her attention to a series of vignettes or constellations in which this attitude comes to the fore in different historical circumstances. I hope the tour will take on coherence through the kaleidoscopic recurrence of problems and themes, leitmotifs and authors that play a role in several of these constellations. At some points on this tour I will follow a guide in whose life and letters the German attitude toward culture and politics, in different facets and variations, miscues and paradoxes, has found its most eloquent, often painfully honest and always ironic expression: Thomas Mann.

This is a book on the history of ideas.

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One cannot understand German history by talking solely about German intellectual life, but one can understand German history more fully by taking intellectual life into account. If there is anything that can be called a specific German ideology, it consists in playing off romanticism against the Enlightenment, the Middle Ages against the modern world, culture against civilization, and Gemeinschaft against Gesellschaft. Based on cultural aspirations and achievements, the belief that Germany was traveling a special path, a Sonderweg , was always a point of pride in the land of poets and thinkers.

The inward realm established by German idealism, the classic literature of Weimar, and the Classical and Romantic styles in music preceded the founding of the political nation by more than a hundred years. Henceforth, they gave a special dignity to the withdrawal of the individual from politics into the sphere of culture and private life. Culture was seen as a noble substitute for politics.

Having thus described the German ideology in my first book Melancholy and Society , I was pleased when Hans Magnus Enzensberger quoted my argument in one of his essays. Pleasure turned into perplexity, though, when I realized that he had used my own words to characterize the modern history of—Spain. Thus I was taught an ironic lesson: German history is not nearly as exceptional as the Germans are inclined to believe. Culture has been seen as a substitute for politics at many times and in many places. In Russia, the life and letters of Pushkin were described as an example of how art could serve as an alternative to politics, whereas later literature—the pamphlets and novels, plays, and poems of the intelligentsia—paved the way for the overthrow of the tsarist regime.

Manchin on Lepenies, 'The Seduction of Culture in German History'

In Ireland, W. Yeats treated the literary renaissance of the s as a case of culture filling a political vacuum, after the death of Parnell in and the failure of Westminster to deliver Home Rule in Young people, disillusioned with politics, were turning to culture to express a national identity and achieve a measure of intellectual freedom. Using chronology not only as an explanation but also, equally falsely, as an excuse, the revisionists have sought to reduce German particularity to a European normality. It remains a challenge for historians to understand the rise of National Socialism and the nightmarish consequences of the Nazi regime without resorting too easily to the viewpoint that Germany was on a special path throughout its history or at least since Bismarck founded the empire after the Prussian victory over France in the war of — Many philosophers in ensuing decades were convinced that only philosophy could come up with an explanation for such developments that, at first glance, eluded historical understanding.

For Dewey, a supreme regard for the inner meaning of things. Even German authors ridiculed the German spirit. In , the year the Nazis came to power, Oswald Spengler described the Germans as a people poor and pitiful who dreamed of an empire in the clouds and called it German idealism. The land of poets and thinkers was in danger of becoming a province of babblers and demagogues Hetzer und Schw atzer. Other observers hated metaphysics for exactly this reason, Flaubert called the Prussian soldiers who were bombarding Paris.

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