A Study in Austrian Intellectual History: From Late Baroque to Romanticism

By Robert A. Kann | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION:
Of Tradition and Change

The object of this study in Austrian intellectual history and its method of presentation are simple, albeit somewhat unusual. It attempts to combine a biographical with a social approach. The two main figures discussed at some length in these essays -- the court preacher of the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth- century Baroque period, Abraham a Sancta Clara, and the reformer of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Joseph von Sonnenfels -- have been selected not for their intellectual achievements, though those were substantial, but because of the type- forming character of their ideas. The three general essays which introduce and connect the biographical studies and survey in retrospect the accomplishments of these men are designed not merely to provide a historical setting; their aim is also to discover the typical elements and to show the cyclical pattern of Austrian intellectual development.

It should be clearly understood that a project of this kind does not claim to be a full-fledged history of intellectual development within a given time and place. It should, however, show the flow of development with reference to certain distinct and highly characteristic facets of history. This will be done within the narrow limits of a few specific case studies, which are discussed within their historical setting. The study would still be far from comprehensive if even twenty cases were analyzed instead of two. On the other hand, the very wealth of material then presented might obscure the principal aim: to trace the rise of the ideas of certain men within their social environment and the evolution of these men and of their ideas in time.

In order to achieve this purpose, certain standards must be met in regard to the individual men chosen for closer scrutiny and in regard to those ideas whose historical development is to be traced. For the first, the obvious choice would be that of a

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