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

By Robert A. Kann | Go to book overview

IV
JOSEPH VON SONNENFELS 1732-1817

a. Background and Career

In the introduction of this study it has been asserted that the major trends of a period and their repercussions in the realm of ideas may be reflected in one distinctive character. In the essay on Abraham a Sancta Clara we tried to prove this contention in regard to the late Austrian Baroque period. In the present essay on Sonnenfels evidence will be offered in regard to the Austrian Enlightenment. Only the final conclusions of this chapter will show how far this plan has succeeded.

Yet long before arrival at any conclusions, even before going into the biography of Sonnenfels, it will become clear that in this present chapter there are greater odds to be overcome than in the one on Abraham a Sancta Clara. The colorful and brilliant personality of Abraham, as is indeed the case with other outstanding characters in history, is of course only partly representative of the spirit of his period, though all major trends of that period may be reflected in his life work. Yet there is hardly a feature in the complex character of the eminent preacher, hardly a facet in his comprehensive writings, that contradicts the main ideas and tradition of his era. This does not hold true of Sonnenfels to the same degree. There are major aspects of his life that appear to be at variance with the spirit of the Austrian Enlightenment. Only their reflection in the character and the extent of his ideological influence long after his death should show why these particular contradictory factors may help to give the ultimate

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