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Jacob Burckhardt's Social and Political Thought

Jacob Burckhardt's Social and Political Thought

RICHARD SIGURDSON
Copyright Date: 2004
https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442676367
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442676367
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    Jacob Burckhardt's Social and Political Thought
    Book Description:

    Contrary to his usual portrayal as a disinterested aesthete, Swiss cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt is characterised as an original social and political thinker in Richard Sigurdson's timely bookJacob Burckhardt's Social and Political Thought. Burckhardt's thinking on a number of ideas - including the relationship between the individual and the mass, the tension between the ideals of equality and human excellence, and the role of the intellectual in the modern state - is the subject of insightful analysis, thus providing a rare investigation into Burckhardt's culture-critique of the nineteenth century. Other important aspects of Burckhardt's life that undoubtedly influenced both his historical and political thought, such as his ambiguous relationship with Friedrich Nietzsche, are carefully scrutinised in this groundbreaking analysis of the Swiss historian.

    Known primarily as an historian, Burckhardt's historical writings provide not only a powerful critique of his own times, but also a broad ranging political philosophy that can be placed within the larger German tradition of evaluating politics according to the values and standards of art and culture. Although Burckhardt himself expressed his scepticism towards general theories and claimed to be devoid of a personal philosophical position, through an examination of his works Sigurdson argues that both implicit and explicit political reflections and theories are recognisable.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7636-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
    Richard Sigurdson
  4. Introduction: A New Dimension to Burckhardt?
    (pp. 3-16)

    Jacob Burckhardt was born in Basel, Switzerland, on 25 May 1818 and died in his home city on 8 August 1897, having taught history and art history at the university there for almost forty years. During his own time, Burckhardt earned a superior reputation for his studies of European culture and art history, most especially for his ground-breaking work on the Italian Renaissance. Today, he is best known for his last book,The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy(1860), which Lord Acton once deemed ′the most penetrating and subtle treatise on the history of civilization that exists in literature.′¹...

  5. Part One: Burckhardt and the Birth of Cultural History

    • CHAPTER ONE A Historian in Troubled Times
      (pp. 19-58)

      His family expected that Jacob Burckhardt would follow in his father′s - and grandfather′s¹ - footsteps and enter the ministry. He studied Protestant theology in Basel from 1837 to 1839. However, his religious studies ended abruptly when he realized that he lacked sufficient faith in the doctrines of revelation and the divinity of Christ to pursue a career as a pastor.

      The key influence in this matter was Wilhelm de Wette, Burckhardt′s theology professor.² De Wette was a radical scholar who had come to Basel under unusual circumstances. He had been suspended from his post at the University of Berlin...

    • CHAPTER TWO Cultural versus Political History: Burckhardt and Ranke
      (pp. 59-86)

      Burckhardt has been celebrated as a founder of modern ′cultural history′ (Kulturgeschichte). His stress on art and culture, rather than on politics as it is conventionally defined, is an indisputably Burckhardtian moment in the German historiography of the nineteenth century, an era otherwise obsessed with a nationalistic and historicist vision of power and the state. But what did Burckhardt understand by cultural history? How is cultural history distinguished from political history? And to what extent, if at all, can we argue that Burckhardt qualifies as apoliticalthinker, given his overriding preoccupation withculture? In order to resolve these issues,...

    • CHAPTER THREE Burckhardtʼs Cultural History: Philosophy, Style, and Poetry
      (pp. 87-128)

      Burckhardt depicts himself as an opponent not only of Hegelʹs philosophy of history, but of all philosophy. Yet despite his numerous disclaimers that he is not a philosopher, it is obvious to many that he ʹthinks philosophically about history.ʹ¹ Moreover, the result of Burckhardtʹs philosophical-historical reflection - his ʹmethodʹ ofKulturgeschichte- is widely recognized as an original and very impressive approach to the study of human affairs, if not a philosophyper se. Burckhardtʹs rejection of philosophy is thus a reaction against the ascendancy of speculative reason and the consequent decline of imagination, perception, artistic expression, and historical memory....

  6. Part Two: Burckhardtʼs Social and Political Thought

    • CHAPTER FOUR Elements: Scepticism, Organicism, and Human Nature
      (pp. 131-163)

      Burckhardt makes the individual the hub of his political analysis. He insists on starting from ′the one point accessible to us, the one eternal centre of all things - man, suffering, striving, doing, as he is and was and ever shall be.′¹ As Wolfgang Mommsen recognizes, the sequence of items in this sentence should be duly noted: enduring or suffering comes first, doing or acting comes last. It is clear that Burckhardt shared Schopenhauer′s view that human life consists largely of suffering and misery and that the acting human being could not easily escape from this anguish. Like ′The Philosopher′...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Themes: Freedom, the State, and Society
      (pp. 164-197)

      Our discussion so far of Jacob Burckhardt′s political thinking still leaves unresolved the origin, nature, and proper function of the state. Having noted that Burckhardt′s anti-statism is pervasive, we must now sketch his understanding of the theoretical relationship between such concepts as freedom, culture, society, authority, power, and the state, focusing on freedom and authority, especially in the light of Edmund Burke′s philosophy; the origins and nature of the state, with particular reference to ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy; and the role of society in an era of rapid change.

      In this chapter we examine Burckhardt′s conviction that the preservation...

    • CHAPTER SIX Burckhardt and Nietzsche: Two Critiques of Modernity
      (pp. 198-220)

      Along with his reputation as an astute cultural historian, Burckhardt is well known in intellectual history for his association with his junior colleague Friedrich Nietzsche. This relationship has been of interest to intellectual historians primarily for the light it can cast on the development of the life and thought of the much more famous Nietzsche. It is also of interest for those concerned more broadly with certain pervasive ideological themes among German-language cultural scholarship in the nineteenth century. In addition, the relationship - marked by Nietzsche′s continued efforts up until his mental collapse to enlist the collaboration and friendship of...

  7. Conclusion: An Astute Political Thinker
    (pp. 221-226)

    Burckhardt is an undoubtedly important figure in intellectual history, especially in the history of historiography and of the academic analysis of European culture, art, and architecture. But he is also a noteworthy and astute political thinker. He brings to light observations and arguments about the nature of modernity that illuminate certain aspects of the human condition in its political dimension. As a commentator on the politics of his own day, he identified unfettered individualism, mass democracy, and the erosion of culture as constitutive elements of the modern age. In addition, his profound and scathing culture critique of his time reveals...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 227-260)
  9. References
    (pp. 261-270)
  10. Index of Names
    (pp. 271-276)
  11. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 277-279)