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

By Robert A. Kann | Go to book overview

III
FROM LATE BAROQUE THROUGH ENLIGHTENMENT

a. Creative Transition and Beginnings (1711-40)

The century from the death of Abraham a Sancta Clara in 1709 to that of Joseph von Sonnenfels in 1817 covers such significant hills and dales of cultural history as the late Baroque, the shortlived Austrian Rococo, the revival of Classicism, and the impressive Empire style, which in its unassuming Austrian form was soon transformed into Biedermeier. In the history of political ideas, the developments in this period, almost to the year, can be described far more succinctly as ranging from conservatism through the full course of the Enlightenment to the establishment of a renewed though strangely altered conservatism. The long middle period of rising, ruling, and declining Enlightenment as exemplified (though by no means fully represented) by the life work of Sonnenfels, and its reflection in nineteenth-and twentieth-century history, is the subject here. But before embarking on the task it will be necessary to give a brief survey of the setting of the Austrian Enlightenment similar to the preliminary study of the Baroque setting of Abraham a Sancta Clara's activities.

Two facets of the Enlightenment are glaringly conspicuous in the body politic. One is the injection of would-be-rational, would- be-scientific principles into the basic philosophy of authoritarian government; the other is the penetration of the spirit of humanitarianism accompanied by authoritarian administrative actions. By and large in continental Europe, rather in contrast to British developments, the evolution of the first of these elements dis-

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