| Chapter 22: Thought and Culture in the Early Nineteenth Century
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> Chapter 22
Chapter 22: Thought and Culture in the Early Nineteenth Century

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  • Romanticism: A New Cultural Orientation
  • Romanticism: A New Cultural Orientation
  • The Romantic Movement dominated European cultural life in early nineteenth century
  • However, the movement was so complex that it is difficult to define romanticism
  • Most of Europe’s leading cultural figures were influenced by it
  • Proponents included Shelley, Wordsworth, Schiller, Beethoven, and Wagner
  • Exalting Imagination, Intuition, and Feelings
  • Central message of Romantics was that individual imagination should determine form and content of an artistic creation
  • This approach ran counter to the rationalism of the Enlightenment
  • Romantics thought philosophes had turned human beings into thinking machines
  • Wished to emancipate humanity from tyranny of excessive intellectualizing
  • Romantics emphasized autonomy, individualism, human emotions
  • Avenue to truth was for them human emotion rather than the intellect
  • Romantics wanted people to feel and to experience
  • Consequently, they insisted that imaginative poets were more insightful than philosophers
  • Romantic poets, artists, and musicians broke with traditional styles and standards
  • Blake said, “We do not want either Greek or Roman Models, but … [should be] just & true to our own Imaginations”
  • Victor Hugo urged “Freedom in art. Let us take the hammer to the theories, the poetics, and the systems”
  • Romantics explored the inner life of the mind, the unconscious, and even its dark side
  • Nature, God, History
  • Philosophes had viewed nature as a machine operating in perfect precision
  • Romantics rejected this impersonal mechanical model, seeking mystical union with living nature
  • Nature stimulated creative energies of the imagination
  • English romantics decried the “dark satanic mills” that bled joy from life
  • Many romantics viewed God as an enriching spiritual force, drawn to Christianity
  • Thus they condemned the philosophes for weakening Christianity via reason
  • The Middle Ages appeared very different to the romantics
  • To the philosophes, medieval era was darkness, superstition, and fanaticism
  • In contrast, romantics revered the Middle Ages and sought security by looking back
  • To the romantics, religious Middle Ages seemed to nurture social harmony
  • They also diverged in their conception of history and literature
  • For the romantics, a historical period was a unique entity with its own soul
  • Their appreciation of cultural uniqueness and diversity laid groundwork for modern historical scholarship
  • Romantics also saw folk stories and songs as a creative wellspring of cultural identity, examining them with awe and reverence
  • The Impact of the Romantic Movement
  • The romantic revolt against the Enlightenment had an enduring impact on Europe
  • By focusing on the creative capacities in the emotions, romantics shed light on a side of human nature that was overlooked or undervalued by the philosophes.
  • Modern art rooted in this emphasis on human feeling, dreams, and fantasies
  • Sometimes Romanticism found expression in humanitarian movements
  • Yet there was a potentially dangerous side as well
  • Romanticism served as background to extreme twentieth-century nationalism
  • By attacking reason, romantics undermined Enlightenment rationalism
  • Particularly in Germany, romanticism fused with political nationalism
  • Philosophes would have seen romantics as regressing to superstition/myth
  • Glorification of myth and folk community is a link between romanticism and the extreme nationalism that culminated in the twentieth-century world wars
  • German Idealism
  • The Challenge Posed by Hume’s Empiricism
  • Enlightenment thinkers thought physics and astronomy provided certainty
  • But David Hume cast doubt on the view that scientific certainty was possible
  • He demolished idea of religious miracles, but also concept of scientific law
  • Hume argued that science cannot prove a necessary connection in cause/effect
  • Assumption of cause and effect is unwarranted
  • According to Hume, sense perception is the only legitimate source of knowledge
  • Radical empiricism undermined foundation of science revered by progressive thinkers
  • Immanuel Kant
  • In the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Immanuel Kant (Newtonian) tried to rescue reason and science from Hume’s empiricism
  • Kant argued that mind is not a blank slate but an active instrument
  • Because of the way the human mind is constituted, we presuppose cause/effect relationships
  • In other words, cause and effect exist as an a priori component of human consciousness
  • The mind imposes structure and order based on sense experience
  • Thus Kant rescued science from Hume’s assault
  • However, in the process he made scientific law dependent on the mind
  • By holding that objects must confirm to the rules of the human mind, Kant gave primacy to the knower rather than to the objects of knowledge
  • This revolutionary turn gave unprecedented weight to the individual mind
  • Kant claimed that we cannot know ultimate reality, only the natural/material world
  • Thus he revalidated scientific law but also limited the range of science and reason
  • G. W. F. Hegel
  • Kant insisted that knowledge of the ultimate is denied to human beings
  • G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) disagreed
  • He constructed an all-embracing metaphysics to explain all reality and nature
  • In doing so, he synthesized rationalism, romanticism, and Kantian philosophy
  • Hegel emphasized the importance of the thinking subject in the quest for truth
  • Kant had said we can know only how a thing appears, not the thing-in-itself
  • In contrast, Hegel maintained that human minds can grasp ultimate reality
  • Hegel took a giant step beyond Kant’s emphasis on the knowing subject and posited the existence of a universal Mind that differentiates itself in the minds of thinking individuals
  • Mind, Absolute Spirit, was for him evolving and developing
  • For Hegel, history was the development of spirit in time
  • Like the Romantics, he thought each period had distinctive character
  • Art, science, philosophy, religion, politics, etc. are interconnected to create organic whole
  • Hegel believed that world history revealed a rational and progressive process
  • For Hegel, the purpose and end of history is the unfolding of Absolute Spirit
  • History, for Hegel, is humanity’s progress from lesser to greater freedom
  • Absolute spirit manifests itself in history through dialectical conflict between opposing forces
  • Struggle between one force (thesis) and its adversary (antithesis) appears in all spheres of human activity
  • It is finally resolved in a new and higher stage (synthesis)
  • Synthesis soon becomes another thesis to meet antithesis, and so on
  • Yet Hegel also maintained that social and political institutions should be rational
  • Like Rousseau, he sought to align individual free choice with society
  • Hegel favored a constitutional monarchy
  • Oddly, he thought his own country (autocratic Prussia) was a fine example of Universal Reason
  • German conservatives used Hegel’s idea of rational legitimacy of existing institutions
  • If existing reality is the actualization of Absolute Spirit, it should not be altered
  • Radical “Young Hegelians” argued that Germany was not rationally organized
  • One of these was Karl Marx
  • Marx retained Hegel’s principle of the logical, dialectical struggle of history
  • Conservatism: The Value of Tradition
  • Hostility to the French Revolution
  • Conservatives thought revolutionaries were reckless and wicked
  • Saw the Revolution as a natural outgrowth of Enlightenment arrogance and abstraction
  • Conservatives thought people were wicked by nature, not good
  • Argued for value of traditional systems: monarchy, aristocracy, and the church
  • Institutions that offered proper moral values, order, and prevention of mob rule
  • Conservatives hated attempts to transform society on a theoretical model
  • God and history were the only legitimate sources of political authority
  • States should not be made but were an expression of the nation’s experience
  • Conservatives viewed society not as a machine, but as a complex, delicate, living organism; tamper with vital organs and it dies
  • The Quest for Social Stability
  • Conservatives emphasized community (not individual), rejected natural rights
  • Equality deemed a pernicious abstraction contradicting all historical evidence
  • Conservatives saw religion as the basis of civil society
  • By pointing out complexity of human beings and relationships, conservatism exposed a limitation of the Enlightenment
  • Warned that revolutionary violence committed in the name of utopian principles ends in terror and despotism
  • This prediction was borne out in the twentieth century
  • Liberalism: The Value of the Individual
  • The Sources of Liberalism
  • Liberalism is an extension and development of ancient Greek democratic practices
  • Its immediate roots extended back to seventeenth-century England
  • Glorious Revolution of 1688 set limits on power of English monarchy
  • John Locke’s natural rights philosophy proclaimed individual freedom
  • Expansion of a market economy showed virtues of individual initiative
  • French philosophes also helped shape liberalism
  • Montesquieu’s ideas of checks and balances
  • Religious toleration and freedom of thought
  • American and French Revolutions also crucial phases in history of liberalism
  • Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights protected people/rights
  • French National Assembly of 1789 implemented liberal ideals
  • Both Revolutions called for protection of property rights, basic premise of liberalism
  • Individual Liberty
  • Liberals’ primary concern was enhancement of individual liberty
  • Rejected medieval classification of individual by birth status (common/elite)
  • Called for end to all aristocratic privileges
  • Attacked authorities that prevented individual free choice and expression
  • To guard against absolute authority, liberals demanded constitutions guaranteeing:
  • Freedom of speech and the press
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom from arbitrary arrest
  • Protection of property rights
  • Freely elected parliament
  • Distribution of power among branches of government
  • Liberals held that best government interferes little and is elected by the people
  • Liberal Economic Theory
  • Bourgeois liberals thought the economy, like the state, should proceed on natural laws
  • Based on Adam Smith, they argued for an unimpeded free economy
  • They maintained that people worked hardest when acting from self-interest
  • Believed that individuals are responsible for their own misfortunes
  • As a consequence, they thought misery of poor was due to laziness, moral failure
  • Liberals regarded social reforms and meddling with the natural law of supply/demand
  • Thomas R. Malthus (1766–1834) upheld this view
  • Anglican cleric, professor of history and political economy
  • Essay on the Principle of Population (1798/1803), he argued that population grows much faster than food supply
  • Distress of the poor due not to institutions or property relations but to number of children
  • Malthus argued that the state could not alleviate the poor’s misery
  • Only solution was to lower birthrate through late marriage and chastity
  • Yet Malthus believed they lacked the self-discipline
  • Compassion for the poor was for Malthus a misplaced emotion
  • He maintained that higher wages would only lead them to have more children
  • Poverty, like disease, was for Malthus a natural phenomenon
  • Early nineteenth-century liberals thus saw poverty and suffering as part of the natural order; “suffering and evil are nature’s admonitions”
  • For example, when the Irish were dying of starvation in 1845–1849, liberal British leadership did little to lessen the suffering
  • 1.5 million people died, seen as nature’s way of dealing with excess population
  • In the last part of the century, liberals modified this strict principle to aid the poor
  • Liberalism and Democracy
  • French Revolution presented a dilemma for liberals
  • They supported reforms of moderate stage, but repudiated Jacobin radicalism
  • They were frightened by its excesses and appeal to the “little people,” mob rule
  • For bourgeois liberals, mass participation in politics was vulgar and ineffective
  • Few thinkers in first half of nineteenth century understood significance of mass participation
  • Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) an exception
  • French political theorist, statesman, aristocrat, liberal
  • In his Democracy in America, he analyzed merits and weaknesses of American democratic society
  • De Tocqueville saw it as the political system of the future, but also as a potentially dangerous one
  • Danger is that people will surrender liberty to government in exchange for property
  • He also argued that democracy spawns a selfish individualism
  • Yet he did not seek to reverse its growth
  • The task of a democratic society is to temper extreme individualism by fostering public spirit
  • Without direct participation by cooperating citizens, democracy’s future is bleak
  • Although liberalism was philosophy of an undemocratic middle class, the ideals of democracy flowed logically from liberalism
  • The masses would press for social, political, and economic equality
  • Thus, by early twentieth century, push toward suffrage and improved conditions
  • But in the twentieth century, common participation has led to demagoguery
  • Apparently, common people are willing to trade freedom for authority
  • Liberal assumption that humans respond to rational argument may be too optimistic
  • Radicalism and Democracy: The Expansion of Liberalism
  • Thomas Paine
  • Thomas Paine (1737–1809) wrote The Rights of Man
  • Denounced reverence for tradition and praised destruction of the Old Regime
  • Staunchly supported the American and French Revolutions
  • Paine denounced all hereditary monarchy and aristocracy as slave systems
  • Paine fused English radical tradition with belief in reason and human goodness
  • He also contributed belief that the goal of government was the greater happiness of ordinary people and that excluding common people from political participation was unjust
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) offered principle of utility as a guide to reformers
  • Central fact of human existence is human search for gratification
  • Pleasure is good, pain is bad
  • Thus every institution/law should be judged by the following criterion:
  • Does it bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number?
  • If not, it should be discarded
  • Bentham and his followers (philosophical radicals) focused on necessity for change
  • Argued that the principle of utility permits reforming of society based on true human nature and needs
  • Maintained that utilitarianism is rooted in objectivity and experience, not religion and philosophy
  • Bentham thus supported extension of suffrage, secret ballot
  • In contrast to laissez-faire liberals, Benthamites argued for legislation such as that to help factory women/children, improve urban sanitation, and effect prison reform
  • Early Socialism: New Possibilities for Society
  • Saint-Simon: Technocratic Socialism
  • Henri Comte de Saint-Simon (1760–1825) renounced his title in French Revolution
  • Argued that scientific knowledge would bind and stabilize society
  • His disciples championed big railway and canal systems
  • Vision of a scientifically organized society led by trained experts still alive today
  • Fourier: Psychological Socialism
  • Charles Fourier (1773–1837) was another early French socialist
  • He (like romantics) believed that society conflicted with natural needs of human beings
  • Fourier sought to create small communities focused on simple pleasures
  • These communities (phalansteries) would be organized for benefit of members
  • Each would work at tasks that interested them
  • Money and goods would be used to reward special skills, but none dominant
  • Men and women would enjoy sexuality, and all would care for children
  • At least 25 communities founded in the United States in the 1840s (all ended within 6 years)
  • Owen: Industrial Socialism
  • Robert Owen (1771–1858) became manager of cotton mills in Scotland
  • Distressed by the workers’ plight, he resolved to improve lives and maintain profits
  • His program included:
  • Raising wages
  • Upgrading working conditions
  • Refusing to employ children under age ten
  • Providing workers with reasonably priced homes, food, and clothing
  • Setting up schools for children and adults
  • His factories were based on assumption that healthy, happy workers are most productive
  • Like philosophes, Owen believed that environment shaped character
  • Owen established a model (but short-lived) community at New Harmony, Indiana
  • Nationalism: The Sacredness of the Nation
  • The Emergence of Modern Nationalism
  • The essential components of nationalism emerged during the French Revolution
  • Revolution asserted that sovereignty derived from the nation, from all the people
  • Two ideas were crucial in new nationalist outlook
  • Belief that the people possess unlimited sovereignty
  • Belief that they are united in a nation
  • Romantic Movement also awakened nationalist feelings
  • Fascination emerged for Herder’s concept of the Volksgeist, or spirit of the people
  • From cultural nationalism, it was a short step to political nationalism
  • Most German romantics were hostile to liberal ideals of French Revolution
  • Maintained the German folk spirit should not be tainted by foreign French ideas
  • The philosophes’ concept of a state as a rational arrangement between individuals seemed lifeless and artificial to the German romantics
  • To them, it was holy, expressing divine spirit of German people
  • State was a living organism that linked people to the past
  • Building on the romantics’ views, radical German nationalists came to assert dangerous idea that national identity was an inherited characteristic
  • Birth was now key, rather than acculturation
  • According to this point of view, some German nationalists argued that Jews could never be truly German
  • Nationalism and Liberalism
  • In early 1800s, liberals were the principal leaders/supporters of nationalist movements
  • Liberals called for unification of Germany and Italy, rebirth of Poland, liberation of Greece, etc.
  • Few intellectuals realized until midcentury the dangers of nationalism or the fundamental conflict between liberalism and nationalism
  • Comparison of liberalism and nationalism:
  • For liberals, idea of universal natural rights transcended national boundaries
  • Nationalists were willing to subvert individual liberty for national grandeur
  • Liberals sought to protect rights of all within the state
  • Nationalists trampled on individual and minority rights
  • Liberalism grew out of rational Western tradition
  • Nationalism derived from the emotions
  • Liberalism demanded objectivity in analyzing society and history
  • Nationalism evoked a mythic, romantic, and distorted history
  • Nationalists interpreted history to serve political ends
  • In last part of nineteenth century, irrational and mythic nationalism intensified
  • It shattered rational thinking and introduced fevered extremism
  • Love of nation became an overriding passion, challenging reason, freedom, and equality



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