The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy

By Dean Moyar | Go to book overview

10
EARLY GERMAN
ROMANTICISM:THE
CHALLENGE OF
PHILOSOPHIZING

Jane Kneller

“Romanticism” currently is a term fraught with negative connotations for most philosophers in the anglophone world. To label a philosophical position “romantic” or “neo-romantic” is nearly always a peremptory dismissal of that view. The label carries the implicit message that such views are irrationalist, mystical, idealist, and/or utopian. It has become a code word for worries that the view so labeled lends itself to authoritarian absolutism, intolerance and anti-pluralist views of the state. At the same time it also suggests, somewhat inconsistently, that romanticism is overly individualistic, hyper-subjectivist in its analyses, and hence lacks commitment to objectivity in its claims. Even in more technical literary contexts, “romanticism” is currently used very broadly to label thinkers and artists from the period beginning as early as the 1780s all the way into the early twentieth century. Barzun’s classic work is a good case in point, dating romanticism from as early as the 1770s in Germany with Goethe and Schiller’s early works, and taking three major nineteenth-century reactions to romanticism (realism in art and materialism in philosophy) from “roughly 1850–1875” as well as impressionism/symbolism and naturalism (1875–1905, roughly) to be variations or “specializations” of romanticism (Barzun 1961: 99, 96–114).

The label as it is now used would be nearly unrecognizable to the close-knit but philosophically diverse group of German intellectuals who first coined it. The term “romanticism” was first used in Jena and Berlin during the 1790s by a small group of friends who wanted to distinguish their own innovative philosophical and poetic work from earlier, more rigidly defined literature. It is this original group of “romantisizers” and their philosophy that will be the subject of this essay. It will examine the core views of the founders of the philosophical aspect of that movement with the goal of showing that romanticism as originally conceived is well worth a second look. The central figures who shaped the philosophy of this group are Friedrich Schlegel,

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