Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism: The Genesis of Modern German Political Thought, 1790-1800

By Frederick C. Beiser | Go to book overview

9
EARLY ROMANTIC POLITICAL THEORY

9.1. Political Romanticism: A Reexamination

From 1797 to 1799, first in Berlin and then in Jena, a new literary circle began to form in Germany. In Berlin its members met in the salons of Henriette Herz and Rahel Levin; and in Jena they gathered in the house of the critic A. W. Schlegel. The purpose of their meetings was to hold frank and free discussions about philosophy, poetry, politics, and religion. They would read one another their latest works, criticize one another openly, and collaborate on literary projects. Seldom had there been such a happy confluence of such gifted minds. This circle was called by contemporaries "the new sect" or "the new school," and, as it later became known to history, "the romantic school."

The members of this circle became famous in German intellectual history. They were the brothers August Wilhelm ( 1767-1845) and Friedrich Schlegel ( 1771-11829), Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder ( 1773-1801), Ludwig Tieck ( 1773-1853), Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling ( 1775 11854), Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher ( 1768-11834), and Friedrich von Hardenberg ( 1772-1801), who called himself Novalis. On the fringes of this circle, though sharing many views with it, was the tragic and lonely figure of Friedrich Hölderlin ( 1774-11843). 1 Although they had broad overlapping interests, most of the romantics tended to specialize in one field. A. W. Schlegel was the circle's literary critic, Schelling its natural philosopher, Tieck its novelist, Hölderlin its poet, Novalis its political theorist, and Friedrich Schlegel its renaissance man, inventive in many fields. From the standpoint of political thought, the most important members of this circle were Friedrich Schlegel, Hölderlin, Schleiermacher, and Novalis.

Although romanticism is usually treated as a literary movement, it cannot be ignored in any history of political thought of the 1790s. The romantics made contributions of the first importance to modern political theory. They spearheaded the critique of modern civil society; they developed a new organic concept of society in opposition to the mechanical model of the paternalist tradition; they questioned the fundamental premises

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