Weimar Thought

Weimar Thought: A Contested Legacy

Peter E. Gordon
John P. McCormick
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Weimar Thought
    Book Description:

    During its short lifespan, the Weimar Republic (1918-33) witnessed an unprecedented flowering of achievements in many areas, including psychology, political theory, physics, philosophy, literary and cultural criticism, and the arts. Leading intellectuals, scholars, and critics--such as Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht, and Martin Heidegger--emerged during this time to become the foremost thinkers of the twentieth century. Even today, the Weimar era remains a vital resource for new intellectual movements. In this incomparable collection,Weimar Thoughtpresents both the specialist and the general reader a comprehensive guide and unified portrait of the most important innovators, themes, and trends of this fascinating period.

    The book is divided into four thematic sections: law, politics, and society; philosophy, theology, and science; aesthetics, literature, and film; and general cultural and social themes of the Weimar period. The volume brings together established and emerging scholars from a remarkable array of fields, and each individual essay serves as an overview for a particular discipline while offering distinctive critical engagement with relevant problems and debates.

    Whether used as an introductory companion or advanced scholarly resource,Weimar Thoughtprovides insight into the rich developments behind the intellectual foundations of modernity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4678-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction: Weimar Thought: Continuity and Crisis
    (pp. 1-12)
    Peter E. Gordon and John P. McCormick

    This volume brings together a broad range of papers on diverse themes pertaining to the intellectual and cultural history of the Weimar Republic. It includes a great variety of contributions by scholars affiliated with manifold disciplines, including, but not limited to, history, political theory, philosophy, sociology, the history of science, film theory, art history, and literary criticism. Our aim has been to provide a critical companion for specialized research that, while adding to current scholarship, would nonetheless remain accessible to the more general reader. Few if any single-volume works have succeeded at offering a unified portrait of the rich developments...

  4. Part I: Law, Politics, Society

    • 1 Weimar Sociology
      (pp. 15-34)
      David Kettler and Colin Loader

      Although it would take an ironist with the genius of Georg Simmel to do justice to the complex of competing teachings and practices that comprised Weimar sociology, it was nonetheless a bounded field, and even a distinctive discipline in formation. Simmel himself could not have written such an account of the discipline, since he had died before the end of the Great War. But he is nevertheless a significant presence in the story that follows here. Like his contemporary Max Weber, who also did not survive beyond the initial months of the Weimar Republic, Simmel helped to set an agenda...

    • 2 Weimar Psychology: Holistic Visions and Trained Intuition
      (pp. 35-54)
      Mitchell G. Ash

      In recent discussions of Weimar culture, increasing attention is being paid to ambivalences of modernist thought, particularly in the human sciences.¹ Historians of natural sciences, technology, and medicine have also shown that previous distinctions between modernism and anti-modernism in Weimar science are too inflexible. Holistic positions could be advocated by scientists on the left as well as the right;² popular fascination with technologies such as rocketry and technocratic social projects like eugenics was as constitutive of Weimar modernity as was anxious opposition to “machine thinking.”³

      Psychology is an appropriate site for closer examination of these issues, and their interactions. One...

    • 3 Legal Theory and the Weimar Crisis of Law and Social Change
      (pp. 55-72)
      John P. McCormick

      Public lawyers in the Weimar Republic conceptualized the law as a novel means of performing the following pressing tasks that confronted state and society in the twentieth century: the regulation of an industrial economy, the amelioration of economic inequality and the negotiation of cultural disagreement. During theKaiserreich, monarchically legitimated elites unilaterally executed comparable tasks. However, in the Weimar Republic, previously excluded social groups—for instance, those represented by the Catholic, Social Democratic, Communist and National Socialist parties—now vied with traditionally represented social forces in electoral and parliamentary fora to formulate and direct regulatory, redistributive, and socially integrative policy....

    • 4 The Legacy of Max Weber in Weimar Political and Social Theory
      (pp. 73-98)
      Dana Villa

      Since the Second World War, Max Weber has been a convenient punching bag for those political theorists and philosophers who yearned to demonstrate the nihilistic consequences of a thoroughly “disillusioned” perspective in the moralpolitical sphere. While thinkers in the Frankfurt School tradition—Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, and the young Habermas—have been especially keen to point out the normative and political deficits of Weber’s thought, theorists on the right have been no less eager to reveal the baneful consequences of socalled “value-free social science.”³ The basic line is easy enough to summarize: if we accept Weber’s severe restrictions on the...

  5. Part II: Philosophy, Theology, Science

    • 5 Kulturphilosophie in Weimar Modernism
      (pp. 101-114)
      John Michael Krois

      The Weimar Republic was one of the most fertile epochs in German philosophy, and its effects are still being felt today. The call for “new thinking” was shared by otherwise disparate approaches. The phenomenologists (Edmund Husserl, Max Scheler, and Martin Heidegger) sought to find the “beginnings” of knowing in pre-scientific phenomena while thinkers at the forefront of what would later be known as analytic philosophy (Gottlob Frege, Rudolf Carnap, and Hans Reichenbach) found a new approach to philosophy in the analysis of language. A third approach took its starting point from the fact of culture and sought to find a...

    • 6 Weimar Philosophy and the Fate of Neo-Kantianism
      (pp. 115-132)
      Frederick Beiser

      January 30, 1933, the day Hindenburg made Hitler Chancellor, was fateful for German philosophy as well as German politics. The collapse of the Weimar Republic on that day also marks the end of neo-Kantianism in Germany. Neo-Kantianism had become so closely associated with Weimar that its fate would be sealed with the Republic itself. The Weimar Constitution had enshrined the liberal and democratic values of Kant’s philosophy, and on solemn public occasions prominent neo-Kantians would defend the Republic. Thus Ernst Cassirer, the most eminent of the neo-Kantians, gave a public address at the University of Hamburg on August 1928 celebrating...

    • 7 Weimar Philosophy and the Crisis of Historical Thinking
      (pp. 133-149)
      Charles Bambach

      In an essay on the relevance of tragedy for understanding modern existence, the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) writes on what he calls “the calculable law” that legislates the pattern and movement of tragic destiny.¹ Tragedy needs to be understood in terms of a “counter-rhythmic rupture” or “caesura,” Hölderlin claims; a rupture that sunders the continuity of temporal progression and provides a break in the jointure of experience and expectation. As a break in, with, and against time, the caesura functions as the “pure word” of poetic insight into the human experience of time as history. On the basis...

    • 8 Weimar Theology: From Historicism to Crisis
      (pp. 150-178)
      Peter E. Gordon

      As if in a compulsive repetition of the First World War’s apocalyptic violence, the brief lifespan of the Weimar Republic saw some of the most earthshaking revolutions in the study of religion. To recall only the era’s most prominent scholars will drive the point home: Barth, Otto, Bultmann, Brunner, Gogarten, Tillich, Buber, Rosenzweig, Bloch, Benjamin, Hirsch—the list is by no means complete. If we then widen our scope to consider the many theologians and religious philosophers who either prepared the way for this explosion or emerged from its ruins, we may be tempted to conclude that Germany in the...

    • 9 Method, Moment, and Crisis in Weimar Science
      (pp. 179-200)
      Cathryn Carson

      Weimar intellectuals were notoriously riven, divided along every possible line. Yet there was one thing that arguably held them together: their sense of living in a particular moment—experiencing it, and simultaneously describing and theorizing it. That commonality is one reason the label “Weimar thought” feels so reasonable: those intellectuals’ sense of their moment as a natural unity, as well as our sense of it as an appropriate analytic construction. It feels reasonable, that is, as long as we look at intellectuals preoccupied with historical creations like human institutions and culture. But intellectuals preoccupied with science?

      Rather than shaped moment...

  6. Part III: Aesthetics, Literature, Film

    • 10 Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, and Weimar Criticism
      (pp. 203-219)
      Michael W. Jennings

      At first tentatively, and then beginning in 1926 with a new focus and resolve, Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer set out to reinvent German cultural criticism as a form. Their writings do not simply mirror the new set of preoccupations and circumstances that characterize cultural criticism in the Weimar Republic: no other writers were so instrumental in setting its agenda and defining its formal means and strategies. Kracauer and Benjamin virtually invented the criticism of popular culture. In the early years of their shared project, essays on popular culture stand alongside appreciations and interpretations of high culture; as they become...

    • 11 Writers and Politics in the Weimar Republic
      (pp. 220-239)
      Karin Gunnemann

      The founding of the Weimar Republic brought to an end the previous Empire’s restrictions on free artistic expression, and during the twenties many writers and artists gained a new appreciation for the public and political efficacy of their work. More than ever before in the history of German culture, art was recognized as having the potential for powerfully influencing political ideology and social change. The handful of authors discussed here are in no way representative of the whole of the Weimar Republic with its outstanding variety of literary works. Many artists chose the stage for its immediacy of communicating their...

    • 12 Aesthetic Fundamentalism in Weimar Poetry: Stefan George and his Circle, 1918–1933
      (pp. 240-272)
      Martin A. Ruehl

      For its issue of 13 July 1928, the editorial board of the German weeklyDie literarische Weltasked a number of writers and public figures to describe the role that Stefan George (1868–1933) had played in their personal development. That so many of the printed replies were positive can perhaps be put down to the fact that they were published on the occasion of George’s sixtieth birthday.¹ Their emphatic and often rapturous tone, however, calls for further comment—as does the fact that the vast majority of respondents chose to describe George’s influence in intellectual, rather than aesthetic or...

    • 13 Weimar Film Theory
      (pp. 273-290)
      Sabine Hake

      Weimar film theory today is closely identified with three names: Siegfried Kracauer, Béla Balázs, and Rudolf Arnheim. However, a return to the archives reveals that their contributions are more accurately located in the space between criticism and theory and can only be understood through the entire historical constellation: the various institutional contexts, aesthetic categories, social practices, and cultural traditions that constituted film as a discursive object; the competing functions of film as mass-produced commodity, art form, and propaganda tool that informed critical practices; and the changing positions of film in relation to other art forms, mass media, and modes of...

    • 14 The Politics of Art and Architecture at the Bauhaus, 1919–1933
      (pp. 291-315)
      John V. Maciuika

      The birth of social democracy out of the ashes of a defeated, delegitimized Wilhelmine Empire galvanized the German art world as never before. Artists at Walter Gropius’s experimental Bauhaus school and in such diverse avant-garde art movements as Expressionism, Cubism, Dada, and Constructivism reflected a broad consensus that the pre-war empire had proved an absolute failure. The Kaiser, the government, the aristocracy, the military, big business, and the bourgeoisie were all seen as complicit in a corrupt system unable to cope with the many challenges of industrial modernity.

      Like a shifting kaleidoscope, artistic production during the Weimar era dazzled with...

    • 15 Aby Warburg and the Secularization of the Image
      (pp. 316-338)
      Michael P. Steinberg

      Over the inner portal of the Warburg Institute and Library at Woburn Square, London, appears the one-word inscription “Mnemosyne”: Memory. Libraries are generically understood as repositories of memory, of course. At the Warburg Library, however, this basic principle takes on two inflections of increasing specificity. The first refers to the materials and the argument of Aby Warburg’s own Hamburg-foundedKulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek,or “Library of the Cultural Sciences.”¹ That collection, undertaken by the twenty-two year-old Warburg in 1886, documented a (largely) European cultural history of the image, combined with a mode of analysis of the image as a repository of cultural...

  7. Part IV: Themes of an Epoch

    • 16 Eastern Wisdom in an Era of Western Despair: Orientalism in 1920s Central Europe
      (pp. 341-360)
      Suzanne Marchand

      Perhaps it is our expectation that ”Orientalism” has everything to do with European imperialism, and nothing to do with the critique of European civilization that accounts for the fact that no one has written a comprehensive account of the use of oriental themes and images during the Weimar Republic.² This is to be lamented, for the interwar era saw the publication of some of Germandom’s most interesting orientalizing novels and most innovative orientalist scholarship; in fact, it may well be the era in which orientalist scholarship was closer to the cultural pulse of the nation than ever before, perhaps precisely...

    • 17 Weimar Femininity: Within and Beyond the Law
      (pp. 361-376)
      Tracie Matysik

      In 1919 Marianne Weber, then president of the League of German Women’s Associations, published a collection of essays under the titleThe Woman Question and Women’s Thoughts. The majority of the essays had been written during theKaiserreich, an era, she noted with just a tinge of lament, “that appears to be forever lost.”¹ According to Weber, theKaiserreichhad been noteworthy for its “fight by modern women for spiritual and legal maturity, for the possibilities to develop individual gifts and powers, for the freedom of each individual to determine for herself the meaning of her own being over and...

    • 18 The Weimar Left: Theory and Practice
      (pp. 377-393)
      Martin Jay

      In the parliamentary elections of May 20, 1928, the combined number of delegates sent to the Reichstag from the two major left-wing parties was the highest in the history of the Weimar Republic. The Social Democrats (SPD) saw their total rise from 131 in the previous election to 153 (of 491 seats), their share increasing by almost 4% to 30% of the popular vote, while the Communists (KPD) went from 45 to 54 members, with almost a 2% increase to nearly 11% of the electorate. The Socialists were the largest party by far in the Reichstag, almost reaching their previous...

    • 19 The Aftermath: Reflections on the Culture and Ideology of National Socialism
      (pp. 394-406)
      Anson Rabinbach

      Hannah Arendt famously wrote that Nazi Germany rested on the “temporary alliance between the elite and the mob.”¹ Arendt’s characterization may seem excessively crude to our ears but not necessarily because it has been proven wrong. A more nuanced version of her thesis was advanced by the great cultural historians during the 1960s, George Mosse, Fritz Ringer, and Fritz Stern, who were less interested in demonstrating the intellectual antecedents of National Socialism in German thought and literature than in showing how a cultural affinity emerged between dispossessed intellectualLumpen-and agebildeteelite who shared the same aesthetic and philosophical contempt...

  8. Weimar Thought: A Chronology
    (pp. 407-416)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 417-422)
  10. Index
    (pp. 423-456)