Georg Lukács. Neo-Romantic Ideology and Fascism, 1933

Neo-Romantic Ideology and Fascism

Written: 1933;
First published: as Die Lebensphilosophie und die Erneuerung der Romantik, Chapter III of: Wie ist die faschistische Philosophie in Deutschland entstanden? (Veröffentlichungen des Lukács-Archivs), 1982, pp. 82-113;
Translated by: Anton P.

“Sublimation” of problems as a prerequisite for demagogy

The crude form of the apologetics of fascism and its blatant demagogy are based on a long history in which all the problems that form the content of this demagogy are “sublimated” to the extreme. For the effectiveness of this demagogy has two contradictory, but precisely in each other the conditions that determine their contradiction: on the one hand, all problems must be so strongly idealistically and spiritualistically distorted, diluted, and abstracted that their connection with their own real economic and social foundations is no longer visible (because otherwise a demagogic distortion would be all too unbelievable and therefore ineffective), On the other hand, something of the real after-effects of these social reasons must remain behind all “sublimations”, indeed, an emotional appeal must be made to the sentimental, experiential after-effects of those social reasons that remain unrecognized (because the effectiveness of demagogy depends on the liveliness of this appeal). This process of sublimation of economic and social problems, their transformation into a symptomatic analysis of emotional reactions to the capitalist system and its development, takes place throughout the capitalist period, but reaches its climax in the age of imperialism and increasingly acquires the independent form of a philosophical tendency as Lebensphilosophie. This “philosophy of life” is from the outset subjective-idealistic and apologetic and is objectively an important precursor of fascism for the reasons indicated, the concrete meaning of which we can only really appreciate in the course of these investigations; which of course does not mean that the founders and builders of this philosophy must have been unconscious fascists.

The social basis of romantic anti-capitalism

The real social basis of the philosophy of life is thus formed by the dialectically contradictory character of capitalist society itself. In order for such a philosophy to be able to develop on this basis, however, it is necessary that these contradictions should not exist in their living movement, not in their dialectical, mutually dependent, nature-penetrating way, but that certain components should appear one-sided, isolated, made intellectually independent. In bourgeois philosophy we see from the outset two opposing tendencies, although they often intersect in many ways. We do not have to concern ourselves here with the one that one-sidedly emphasizes the moments of capitalism’s progressiveness and thereby intellectually extinguishes the dialectical character of this progress. Parallel to it, however, are emerging other tendencies that criticize the “bad sides” of this progress, again without being able or willing to properly discern the dialectical context of these “bad sides”. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels analyze a whole series of such tendencies (feudal socialism, petty-bourgeois socialism, etc.). Depending on the class situation of the critics, depending on the stage of development of capitalism and the class struggles at which this criticism takes place, they have a completely different character. However, all these types of criticism of the capitalist system are based on certain common objective facts of social development under capitalism, which facts we must enumerate here at least briefly and by no means exhaustively. The immediate starting point is usually the destructive effect, which capitalism exerts on “all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic conditions”. The bourgeoisie, as The Communist Manifesto puts it, “has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties which tied man to his natural superiors, leaving no other tie between man and man than naked interest, than callous cash payment. It has drowned the holy shudders of pious-chivalrous enthusiasm and bourgeois melancholy in the ice-cold water of egoistic calculation. It has dissolved personal dignity into exchange value and replaced the countless documented and well-acquired freedoms with one unscrupulous freedom of trade.” And it is only too understandable that all the classes which have become passive victims of this process have seen in this process not the revolutionary upheaval of the productive forces, but the annihilation of all culture and humanity. Here lies the common social basis of all currents that could be summed up under the name of romantic anti-capitalism.

From the same dialectical dichotomy of capitalism, however, arise similar contradictions not only for the classes whose economic foundations go back to pre-capitalist economics, but also for the proletariat and even for the bourgeoisie itself: the old “exploitation veiled in political illusions” has been replaced by the “open, impudent, direct, barren exploitation”, which, however, has also revolutionized the entire character of the labor process: “Due to the expansion of machinery and the division of labor, the work of the proletarians has lost all its independent character and thus all the charm for the worker. He becomes a mere accessory of the machine, and only his simplest, most monotonous, most easily learned action is required.” And the life of the worker (and that of other workers) monotonized in this way is exposed to the constant panic and insecurity of life. Capital, Lenin says discussing the origin of today’s religion, is “a blindly ruling power” because it “cannot be foreseen by the masses of the people,” it threatens “at every step the proletarian and petty proprietor” and brings “over them sudden, unexpected, accidental ruin, downfall, transformation into a beggar, a pauper, a prostitute”. It is well known from the history of the workers’ movement how difficult it was and what great struggles it took to theoretically establish the correct, revolutionary relationship of the worker to the development of capitalism and avoid falling prey to either a romantic “Ludditism” or an apologetic glorification of capitalist “progress”.

The contradictions of capitalism and the bourgeoisie

But it is of particular importance here to emphasize those contradictions which the laws of movement of capitalism produce for the bourgeoisie itself. In his youthful polemics against Bruno Bauer (The Jewish Question), Marx fixes one of these fundamental contradictions, the dialectical relationship of the citoyen to the bourgeois, with unsurpassable clarity. We can only refer to this analysis here, because our space does not allow us to share excerpts from these discussions, which are well known among Marxists anyway. Closely related to this is the peculiar attitude of the bourgeois to the institutions of his own regime, to which, as Marx says in the polemic against Stirner, he behaves “like the Jew to his law; he circumvents them whenever it is necessary in each individual case, but he wants all the others to observe them. If all the bourgeois en masse and at once circumvented the institutions of the bourgeoisie, they would cease to be bourgeois. This is of course a behavior that does not occur to them and in no way depends on their will. The slovenly bourgeois avoids marriage and commits secret adultery; the merchant avoids the institution of property by depriving others of their property through speculation, bankruptcy, etc.; but marriage, property, the family remain theoretically untouched because in practice they are the foundations on which the bourgeoisie has built its rule, because in their bourgeois form they are the conditions that make the bourgeois a bourgeois, just like that law, which is always circumvented, makes the religious Jew a religious Jew. This relationship of the bourgeois to the conditions of his existence takes one of its general forms in bourgeois morality.” The methodological and concrete meaning of these statements by Marx must be understood very generally and broadly. There is no area of life in capitalism where these contradictions do not exist. Consider, for example, on the one hand that Engels shows how individual love arose in the process of the formation of capitalism and unfolded in the course of these class struggles in connection with the development of the bourgeoisie, and that on the other hand the same development has turned love and marriage into a barren exchange relationship, the necessary supplement of which is prostitution, etc. In addition, the higher capitalism develops, the more its laws of the division of labor unfold and mechanize every work far beyond the factory, making them monotonous and unappealing to the one doing the work.

These contradictions, which we have enumerated in a highly incomplete and summary manner, are necessarily evident in all ideological expressions of the bourgeoisie. Of course, they always lead to insoluble contradictions, since it is just as impossible for the bourgeois ideologues to go beyond the foundations of bourgeois society theoretically as it is possible for the individual acting citizen in practice. But this limitation could not prevent a sharp criticism and disclosure of these contradictions in bourgeois literature; in its prime it is filled with a passionate attack against these barriers. This passion is further increased by the fact that the capitalist division of labor usually puts the ideologue in a social position where precisely these aspects of the capitalist contradictions are most tangible and most obvious to him. One does not have to be a romantic anti-capitalist to see the terrible degradation that capitalism – precisely in close connection with the economic revolution whose bearer it was – has brought about in comparison to earlier societies. For example, Marx compares ancient and modern theoretical pronouncements on machines and labor, and uses this opportunity to pour his bitter scorn on the “greats” produced by capitalism. The ancient theorists, he says, “somewhat excused the slavery of the one as a means to the full human development of others, but to preach slavery to the masses in order to turn a few crude or half-educated parvenus into eminent spinners, extensive sausage makers and influential shoe dealers, they lacked the specifically Christian organ for this.” And when it comes to the dissolution of the gentile constitution, Engels speaks of the influences that broke it, “which appear to us from the outset as a degradation”.

But it is clear that the establishment and criticism of such facts on the part of bourgeois ideologues – with very few exceptions, who have worked out the truth “in the midst of the fertilizer of contradictions” – must usually turn into a romantic opposition. At the time of the revolutionary upsurge of the bourgeoisie, this romantic undertone, indeed even the predominance of romantic-oppositional tendencies, does not destroy the accuracy, the boldness and grandeur of such criticism; from Linguet to Carlyle there is a large number of such critics of capitalist society who, although they disregard the fundamental laws of motion of the capitalist system and do not understand its immanent dialectics, nevertheless have achieved great things in uncovering individual, profound contradictions. The greatness of their criticism rests above all on the fact that their uncovering of ideological contradictions always occurs in connection with the economic and social basis, even if this is not really dialectically understood. With the transition from bourgeois economics to vulgarizing apologetics, the ideological criticism of culture is separated more and more from economics. And this separation not only caused their now purely ideological questions to become pale and harmless, not only brought about an increase in the ever-present idealistic tendencies up to the point of pure subjective idealism, but also forced the ideological tendencies (that have been detached from the economic basis, made intellectually independent and turned upside down into problems and questions of culture) to necessarily undergo a fundamental distortion. (This methodological problem of the idealistic dilution and distortion of the questions is only the intellectual mirror image of the social development, the ideological reflection of which is this development.)

The transition to rentier parasitism

The more the economic domination of the bourgeoisie strengthens, the more its ideological struggle concentrates its focus on the struggle against the proletariat, the less the critique of the contradictions that are important here can go into depth, the less it is meant as a serious critique of the system. We can refer the reader to the explanations of the previous chapter, where the same problems of the development of the bourgeoisie were treated, albeit from a different point of view. There we pointed out the important changes that the entry into the imperialist phase brought about in bourgeois cultural criticism, and we highlighted the philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel as a typical representative in Germany. The most important new elements that emerge are, on the one hand, the increasing mechanization of all social and thus all ideological forms of life that monopoly capitalism brings with it, and on the other hand, the growth of rentier parasitism as a hallmark of the imperialist period. This is a general trend of the era. “The rentier state”, says Lenin, “is the state of parasitic capitalism in the process of decomposition, and this fact is necessarily reflected in all the social and political conditions of the countries concerned in general, as well as in the two main currents of the workers’ movement in particular.” So when we speak of rentier parasitism as a characteristic of the ideological development of the epoch, we must always keep in mind this general tendency of parasitism and only secondarily, merely as a special element of this unity, the specific economic and ideological situation of the rentier class in the narrower sense, even though the social division of labor in imperialist capitalism necessarily means that the leading ideologues are most deeply rooted here. However, this does not express any significant new elements, either in terms of content or form, except that certain general tendencies of parasitism consequently appear in even more extreme forms.

For the ideologues of rentier parasitism, a new question arises from this situation in comparison to the earlier development phase. They state, as we have already seen, certain fundamental contradictions of the capitalist system in a distorted and diluted, idealistically sublimated way. However, they are completely far from combating these contradictions. (We recall the category: capitalism as destiny.) Rather, they are looking for ways and means of escaping these contradictions individually, privately; i.e. how one could set up an ideological tusculum within capitalist society where the “bad sides” of capitalism were eliminated, where one – as a capitalist rentier – could live in a world freed from the problems of capitalist development. This idyll has at first glance a certain affinity with the late-Romantic longing for an escape into at least primitive-capitalist conditions. However, this similarity is only superficial, because the ideologues of imperialist rentier parasitism by no means want to do without the achievements of capitalism, they affirm and they revere capitalist development, albeit disguised by a flirtatious and tragic criticism of its problems, so they only want to keep what they object to about capitalism away from themselves personally, but otherwise preserve and enjoy their own ideological “abolition” of the contradictions of capitalism as an independent world next to or above the capitalist reality.

The polarity of rigidity and life

With this question we have arrived in the middle of the central problem of the so-called “philosophy of life”. In Germany as well as in other imperialist countries (think of Bergson in particular), it arose from the most diverse sources and comes in the most diverse forms, so that, viewed from the outside, one could not identify a uniform “school” or tendency at all in the early days of the movement. But both the definition of the central problem posed, and the solution given, is uniform. In a nutshell, it can be formulated in such a way that the whole world problem is reduced to the antithesis of rigidity and life. It has certainly become clear from what has been said so far that behind this contrast lie the faded, “sublimated”, distorted, apologetic problems of the old romantic anti-capitalism, but now limiting everything to a struggle between rigidity and life, thereby wiping out, without exception, all the concrete determinations still contained in the old romantic critique of capital.

The growing subjectivism

Second, the contradictions that are social contradictions of capitalism – including the ideological ones – are not only diluted and distorted in this rigid opposition, but also subjectified. It is no longer a question of the struggle between two social systems, as was the case in the romantic critique of capital, but of the confrontation of two types of behavior, two points of view of reality. So e.g. In Dilthey, for example, “understanding” psychology is only a different methodological point of view compared to “dissecting” (i.e., mechanical) psychology. For Bergson, too, the duree reale is something that can be attained through a different subject behavior, through intuition, so something different than intellectual (mechanical, measurable) time. This tendency to subjectify the opposition of rigidity and life, on the one hand, has the consequence that the subjective-idealistic position of neo-Kantianism is never abandoned for a moment. The neo-Kantian Simmel is one of the pioneers of life philosophy in Germany; Rickert thinks he is in sharp opposition to it, but is objectively extremely strongly influenced by it. So there is no break here either, but rather an uninterrupted development of bourgeois philosophy. On the other hand, this subjectivism has the consequence that “rigidity” does not appear as a property of things and processes, but as a product of the human subject. Therefore, in most philosophers of this tendency, “rigidity” is simply identified with the scientific method of mathematical natural sciences (Dilthey, Bergson), and a new type of thinking, namely a philosophy of life, is sought as a way out.

Aristocratic epistemology

Thirdly, an aristocratic epistemology necessarily arises on this ground and from these premises. For if “life” is a peculiar subject-behaviour, rigidly and fundamentally different from the mechanized way of everyday life and current science (natural science), then it is absolutely necessary to find a special form of the philosophical somersault, with which the subject places itself in this, in the actual, self-created reality. And this behavior is therefore necessarily something that only “chosen spirits” can only achieve after thorough initiation into the occult sciences, after thorough training in their rite. This aristocratic epistemology is an old heirloom of Romanticism (Schelling’s intellectual intuition), it reappears in Bruno Bauer’s Critical Criticism, in Schopenhauer, in Nietzsche, etc. This epistimological aristocratism, bashful and hidden, is, however, contained both in the phenomenological attitude of the Husserl school (“putting reality in parentheses”) and in Dilthey’s “psychology of understanding”. The “exact” sciences were struggling, they could not yet make these demands openly; although in the Dilthey school from the outset there was always a tendency towards the artistic, towards “brilliant vision”. But the necessary increase in agnostic tendencies, the struggle to reduce the objective validity of the laws of nature, being able to place the mechanized world on a sufficiently high philosophical pedestal (here the tendencies of the philosophy of life intersect and mix with those of Mach, Avenarius, Poincare, Duhem, etc.), increasingly led to the emphasizing of these no longer being pure scientific, artistic, ingenious tendency of the philosophy of life. Bergson’s teaching of intuition was an international event in this respect; it accelerated this whole development in Germany both in the philosophical schools that existed earlier as well as in tendencies for which only the teaching of intuition provided a philosophical basis for the formulation of their Lebensphilosophie (the theorists of the George circle).

As much as this ever more openly emerging aristocratism of epistemology was draped in a “timeless, supra-social and supra-historical” veil, its social character is clearly evident here. On the one hand in the skeptical-agnosticistic attitude towards the objective results of the natural sciences, which expresses the tendency of the parasitic bourgeoisie of imperialism, which, for reasons of the development of capitalist production, needs the further promotion of the individual results of natural science, but tries to ideologically barricade itself against drawing ideological consequences from the study of natural laws. On the other hand it is perhaps even clearer that the category “life” is increasingly and more explicitly limited to the “chosen ones,” the geniuses (to the upper class of rentiers of monopoly capitalism). For the masses, the mechanical laws continue to apply; Rickert, for example, expressly emphasizes that a lawful sociology is only possible for the life of the masses, this is “the same” in all times, whereas the great men who actually make history can only be understood in their uniqueness and singularity. And the historical development, the historical context disappears more and more in the monographs that arose from the George school, from the later Simmel, etc. The historical circumstances increasingly form only the background, only the atmosphere that surrounds the great men. The George School formulates precisely this incoherence of history as the result of the noble, intuitive “primal experience” in contrast to the ordinary, mass, scientific, mechanical “educational experience”.

The double face of “life”

The erasure of all concrete definitions from the rigid opposition of rigidity and life removes from the philosophy of life virtually all the old rebellious elements of romantic anti-capitalism. It is true that they underlie it, for the whole conception of “life” is, as we have seen, a thought, no matter how impotent, fleeting, parasitic, but a category that constitutes a protest against the mechanization of life by capitalism (Think of the simultaneous contrast of mechanization and “soul” in Rathenau.) However, because this protest only has the desire of the rentier parasite as its social content, in the midst of capitalism, without touching it, but without being bothered by it to be able to lead a “non-capitalist” life, the same double face appears here in a new form that we have repeatedly encountered before. On the one hand, rigidity expresses the mechanical monotony of capitalism, and it becomes what is in motion, what is constantly new and creative, the intuitively graspable, contrasted with “life”. Capitalism is therefore the dead and the killing principle. On the other hand, the organic growth, the intuitively grasped Gestalt (George circle) is contrasted with the empty and destructive movement of the purely mechanical. Capitalism is therefore the empty and destructive movement compared to the rare completion of the work of genius. Capitalism is therefore at the same time too rigid and too dynamic, at the same time dead and more alive than the highly praised “life”. This philosophical double face is just another expression of the fact that this “sublimated struggle” against the mechanizing and all-life-destroying capitalism also contains a deep bow to the same capitalism.

The way to the “never-ending nothingness”

The previous explanations clearly show that the philosophy of life can necessarily only arrive at extremely poor contents. For what can concretely be the content of such an “intuition”, a “primal experience”? Either the utterly empty and contentless agitation of “experienced time,” the sole content of which is the effacement of all categories of mechanical-conceptual thinking tear out the real socio-historical context and then, artificially isolated in this way, interpret and understand them as symptoms of just that enigmatic life with the help of the “primal experience”, the “ingenious view”. In the course of the post-war development, the already subjective “typology” of worldviews (Dilthey) into the “psychology of worldviews” by Jaspers), thus the new “sciences” of characterology, morphology, the study of handwriting, etc., arise, with the help of which the real, unfalsified essence of “life”, freed from the mechanical bonds of objectivity and terminology, comes to light (Klages).

In this context, Spengler’s historical significance lies in the fact that with his program of founding a “general physiognomics” of history in a morphological way, which solves all those problems on a vitalistic basis that the mechanically conceptual previous science has only covered up and distorted, was the first to attempt a radical summary. The aristocratism of epistemology permits a conscious rejection of all proofs, the presentation of all connections for these theories. On the one hand the proof comes from the contemptible sphere of the mechanical-conceptual, on the other hand it testifies to the rejection of the reader or the critic only so much that he has not raised himself to the height of the correct “intuition”, the “primal experience”. Thus a subjective-arbitrary, content-empty empiricism arises. Because, as Hegel rightly points out, about a related direction, about the theory of “direct knowing”: “From the thesis that direct knowing must be the criterion of truth it follows ... that all superstition and idolatry are declared to be true, and that the most wrongful and indecent content of the will is justified ... Natural desires and inclinations automatically deposit their interests in the consciousness, and the immoral purposes are directly located in the same.” (Of course, the philosophy of life must not simply be equated with this “direct knowing”; the social conditions of its occurrence and therefore also its content are too different for that; here it is impossible to refer to or even hint at these differences.)

The poverty and emptiness of the philosophical content does not mean, however, that this content would remain the same. On the contrary, precisely in its constantly increasing emptiness and poverty, it shows a very interesting development, which faithfully reflects the changing situation of the parasitic rentier class with the increasing crisis of the capitalist system. This can be observed most clearly in the development of “phenomenology”. With the help of its objectivistically and scientifically draped subjective intuitionism, the phenomenological school has “founded” the apologetic contents of monopoly capitalist society in the pre-war period. In the most crass form in a legal-philosophical investigation, where after the “putting in brackets” of reality, after the intuitive-phenomenological analysis of the “eternal essence” of the law, all categories of the current civil code of Germany came to light. After Scheler discovered in the post-war period, using the same method, the “powerlessness of the spirit” as the basis of living history, phenomenology blossomed again in the transitional period between relative stabilization and the outbreak of the acute crisis with Heidegger’s existential philosophy. This philosophy, which is very widespread and has become influential in bourgeois thinking both to the right and to the left, signifies the highest peak of this doctrine of intuition. The otherwise concealed and hidden emptiness of content comes to light here: intuition finds itself as the essence of existence, of life: nothingness. “The essence of the originally nullifying nothingness lies in the fact that it first brings existence before beings as such ... existence means: being held in nothing...” And accordingly are the life-philosophical, existential-philosophical types of behavior that ingeniously elevate themselves above the conceptual-mechanical man in relation to nothingness: fear and boredom.

Romantic polarity as a substitute for dialectics

In this deep wisdom we see clearly before us the purpose of life of the rentier parasite at the exit gate from the relative stabilization. And it is immediately understandable that the advance of Heidegger’s philosophy has also brought with it the renewal of an old romantic direction in philosophy: the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard. This renewal, like the entire renaissance of romantic philosophy in imperialist Germany, is not only closely related to the development of the philosophy of life that we have outlined here, but is also interesting because it shows how the parasitic bourgeoisie of monopoly capitalism has adapted to the dialectic imposed by the development of imperialism. In the period of the rapidly advancing process of capitalization, the ideologues of the German bourgeoisie believed that all problems of the dialectic had been settled completely and forever. A vulgar metaphysics of progress, in which all contradictions were resolved in vain harmony, takes the place of the dead Hegelianism. The renewal of Kantianism in the 1870s and 1880s gave the agnostic-positivist reconciliation with the status quo, the superficial theory of harmony of a capitalism regarded as unproblematic, a noble aura, but did not essentially change its philosophical face. As we saw in the previous chapter, only with the economic and political crisis period on the eve of the transition to imperialism were the ideologues of the bourgeoisie forced to confront the contradictions of capitalism. We have seen how they approached the basic social problems. From a philosophical point of view, we must now examine the basic questions of this “unwilling dialectic”, which arise in close connection with the philosophy of life. With the development of imperialism, especially its development during and after the war, the internal contradictions of the capitalist system appear in such blatantly obvious that their facticity cannot be denied. The confrontation with the problems of the inner contradiction of the whole being is decisively influenced by the fact that the strengthening of the revolutionary working-class movement, the separation of the revolutionary left wing from the social-imperialist wing are at the same time theoretically bringing about the revival and popularization of the materialist dialectic, which, in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, has the “slut smell” of revolution. The dialectical unity of contradictions, which does not resolve these contradictions but “creates the form in which they can move” (Marx), is becoming more and more synonymous with the proletarian revolution in the eyes of the bourgeoisie. It was therefore a matter of finding a form in which the fact of the contradictions is acknowledged without a dialectic, a moving unity of the contradictions arising as a result.

The philosophy of life finds such a form in the polarity theory of Romanticism. The determination of the polar opposites, their belonging together and mutual conditionality in this polarity was a step forward in the elaboration of the dialectical method in Goethe and partly also in the Romantic period (Hegel via Goethe, via Solger etc.). However, as soon as the class struggles of the time and the philosophical struggles connected with them prescribed stopping at polarity, a fixation of polarity in methodological opposition to dialectics, this relative progressiveness had to be transformed into a reactionary principle even then. The philosophy of life ties in with the retrograde side of polarity. It transforms it – by abusing Goethe’s semi-dialectical category – into a “primal phenomenon” that can be grasped intuitively and described artistically suggestively, but which has no conceptual connection to the other phenomena whose “essence” it is supposed to form, let alone one in a dialectical interaction. (Clearly visible in Spengler, but also in the George school, in Baeumler, in Klages, in characterology.) This transformation of a preliminary form of dialectics into a principle for combating dialectics is made very easy for the philosophy of life by the fact that it yes, as we have already seen, all social contradictions are “sublimated” and summarized in the rigid opposition of rigidity and life. If the thinkers now descend from this philosophical “height” into the “concrete”, then, from a scientific point of view, indiscriminately, “eternal polarities” haphazardly and incoherently, whose social function is, however, very clear: to distract from the real opposites of social life (e.g. individual and society, genius and masses, man and woman etc. etc.).

The polarity of the conscious and unconscious

The most important “primal phenomenon” of polarity is that of the conscious and the unconscious; also an heirloom of old romanticism. The attitude of the philosophy of life to the problems of the intellectual reproduction of reality, to scientificity, necessarily entails that in it the unconscious, non-conceptual, incomprehensible, irrational, only intuitively comprehensible, primitive etc. prevails over the rational. It is impossible for us to enumerate all the symptoms of this development, which are well known anyway. We only refer to the well-known ones. The turning of the art of this whole period to an ever greater primitiveness, to a return to the art of the primitive peoples; to the discovery of a unique way of thinking among the primitive peoples, which in this respect is superior to “rational logic” (Levy-Bruhl and others); to the general effect of Freudism, which has spilled over into “ideological” and sociological aspects, etc. All these motives intersect and intertwine in different ways in the different authors, but the basic motives show the same face, with a constant increase in irrationalistic motives.

Phases of the renaissance of Romanticism

The renaissance of Romanticism develops accordingly on this ascending irrationalist line. While in the pre-war period early Romanticism was predominantly renewed in close connection with a vitalistic “rebirth” of Goethe’s philosophy (the “discovery” of the young Hegel by Dilthey also happened in connection with the philosophy of life and the renaissance of early Romanticism), attention is focused in the post-war period mainly to the later romantics, among whom all traces of the ideological after-effects of the French Revolution had already disappeared, who almost without exception became pure reactionaries in the struggle against Napoleon and as ideologues of the Restoration period. This difference in the evaluation of the Romantic legacy, this determination of what Romanticism “actually” is, is by no means a question of literary history. Rather, it expresses the increasing sublimation of the problems, their increasing reduction to the rigid opposition of rigidity and life, their increasing mythologization. And in this movement the general process of fascization of the German ideology is expressed energetically at the same time. While in the pre-war period the renewal of early romanticism still – corresponding to the general state of pre-war imperialism – has ambivalent tendencies, in that it moves in the direction of the older liberal cultural criticism as often as it shimmers over to that of open reaction, the latter (reactionary) tendency decisively gains the upper hand in the post-war period. It is characteristic of the pre-war renaissance of Romanticism that its main literary representative, Ricarda Huch, in the post-war period, albeit very obscurely, sought to maintain the ideological connection with “left” currents, wrote about Garibaldi, Bakunin, etc. and finally tried to build a romantic-“progressive” bridge from the wars of liberation to the present day. The romantic-anti-capitalist tendencies are more openly expressed here than in the case of the neo-romantics, but at the same time they show how great the affinity with the basic tendencies of the preparatory ideology of fascism is, despite practically contradictory efforts and despite an opposite evaluation of history. Ricarda Huch sees the founding of the German Empire as a new absolutism and criticizes the conditions of the Second Reich from the point of view of a romantic utopian. “If one compares,” she writes, “Stein and Radowitz on the one hand and Bismarck on the other, one sees a decline in culture that is astounding in a short space of time, without devastating wars or other violent upheavals preceding it. ... In Stein and Radowitz the old agrarian kingdom perished, through Bismarck capital and industry triumphed ... The fatherly attitude towards the people mainly distinguishes Stein from Bismarck.” And it is in full agreement with this evaluation that, according to Ricarda Huch, “this reverent consideration of the Middle Ages [namely in the Communist Manifesto! G. L.] could have come from Haller”, that therefore for the “left-wing” Ricarda Huch – just as for the right-wing Hugo Fischer – Marx is a failed, inconsistent romantic. Admittedly, Ricarda Huch represents only one wing of the older innovators of romanticism. Othmar Spann draws completely opposite conclusions from Schelling and Novalis, whom he admittedly couples with Adam Müller, and concludes from them the one Identity between Marxism and liberalism, he contrasts the causal-mechanical economy and social theory with that of “totality” and “jointness”.

Despite this, the post-war renaissance of Romanticism also meant, compared to Spann, a further step towards fascist ideology in the truest sense. And precisely through the decidedly irrationalistic sublimation and mythologization of all social problems. “The Romantic,” says Alfred Baeumler, the theoretical leader of the Bachofen renaissance, who was appointed professor of political education at Berlin University by the Hitler government, “does not want to escape from the present, nor does he want to renew a certain historical situation: he wants to get closer to the eternity that stands at the beginning of everything that happens.” And Baeumler sees a further development in this sense only quite consistently – and not entirely without historical justification – in later romanticism. The earlier Romantics are too close to the 18th century, to the French Revolution, they were too “corrupted” by the Enlightenment and so were unable to reach this “depth”, the depth of Görres (“the whole future of a people is preserved in its myth”) or Bachofen. Schelling had already grasped polarity as a “universal law of the world”: “But Schelling is far from making the polarity of the sexes a law of the world. Görres was the first to do that.” Baeumler thus follows with great consistency the development of Romanticism into the openly reactionary, into the decidedly mystical, and glorifies precisely this development as the legacy that the fascist present has to take on philosophically. It is natural that Schelling’s “sincere youthful idea” (Marx), despite all the reactionary elements already present at the time, stands in his way as something “backward” and that he extends the palm of his hand to those romantics who do not encounter such obstacles. But even these are unusable in their unprocessed state for the purposes of the philosophy of life, which has already become fascist. For example, Baeumler considers the whole problem of the discovery of matrilineal right, Bachofen’s actual scientific achievement, to be something inessential and unproven and sees its importance exclusively in the presentation of the “eternal”, historical-philosophical struggle of the chthonic and Apollonian, the maternal and sphinx-like and the male-shaping principle.

The extended reproduction of the contradictions of the philosophy of life

This shift in emphasis is interesting because it clearly expresses the essential problems and contradictions of the renewal of the romantic doctrine of polarity on a vitalistic basis. First, as can be seen from the example, all historical events are reduced to certain mystically exaggerated psychological facts in a rigid polarity. We shall come back to the significance of this kind of historical falsification in detail when dealing with the myth. Secondly, however, in this mythical conception we can now see the fundamental contradiction of the philosophy of life on a higher level and more concretely. On the one hand, the primitive, the original, close to the metaphysical origin of man, the living, the instinctive, receives a value emphasis over the intellectual, rigid, mechanical-rational, whereby the latter is always to be understood in a mythologized form as capitalism. On the other hand, this romantic-reactionary form of historical philosophy can nowhere be carried out consistently. Everywhere the ordered, the bright, the Apollonian must triumph over the forces of chaos, over the dark and dull subterranean powers, whereupon this chaos suddenly – admittedly again in mythological form – is associated and synonymous with capitalism plus proletarian revolution (think of the identification of liberalism and Marxism).

This romantic renaissance differs philosophically from its predecessors in that it is far less able to carry out the idea of the triumph of organics over mechanics, of the past over the present, of the instinctive over the rational than romanticism itself, which was politically based on legitimacy in the period of restoration, while here an apology for monopoly capitalism has to emerge along intricate mythological paths. Perhaps this aspect appears most clearly in Ernst Junger’s book The Worker. Significantly, the philosophical motives of the neo-Kantian Rickert also play a decisive role in laying the foundations. When Juenger says of the worker “that he does not stand in relation to this society in terms of opposition, but in terms of otherness,” the noble lack of a literary reference cannot hide the fact that Rickert’s “heterothesis,” the replacement of the dialectical opposite through the otherness, is applied. This application is not only interesting because it clearly shows the smooth adaptability of neo-Kantian epistemology for fascist purposes, but also because its cause becomes visible at the same time. The removal of the dialectic from the knowledge of the dialectical connections can originally serve a liberal “harmonic”. But it is just as suitable to underpin a pseudo-radical-mendacious apologetics epistemologically. Junger considers his “worker” an entirely new type because he is not even in hostile touch with the hated world of the “bourgeois.” In doing so, however, he arrives at an apology (borrowed in substance from social-fascism) for “organized capitalism”. In all of this he arrives at an “organic-instinctive” glorification of the “workshop landscape” of the present and in particular of the “planned landscape” of the future. The motives of the romantic philosophy of life are concentrated here in an aesthetic-apologetic glorification of the present, which is understood as an organic preliminary stage of the “socialist” future, whereby the Gestalt of the worker serves on the one hand to ideologically fight the bourgeoisie and bourgeois culture, on the other hand, to save all elements of monopoly capitalism in the socialist future in this form.

Technology and war as “life”

In Junger the transition from the romantic philosophy of life to actual fascism is already quite clearly visible. On the one hand in the Gestalt of the worker, in which all class contradictions are erased, which in its romantic, vitalistic vagueness is intended to feign the unity of all “workers” from the manufacturer to the porter and at the same time serves to separate this Gestalt in a strictly polar manner from the Gestalt of the bourgeois, of the “past” capitalist period. On the other hand, that tendency, already known to us, appears here to rigidly separate the good and the bad sides of capitalism from one another and to turn them into a polar archetypal phenomenon. What in the Hitler agitation appears in a grossly demagogic way as the antithesis of creative and scavenging capital, appears in a “noble” form among Junger and other ideologues of fascism who are not or less party-bound. For example, Junger portrays the world of the bourgeois as an inorganic, mechanical, frozen, dead world – genuinely vitalistically – while capitalist technology, rationalization, the capitalization of agriculture receives the value accent of life. (This separation of economy and technology is extremely significant for this period, capitalism is defended from the side of technical apologetics; only with the growing acute crisis are the ideologues forced to blow some retreat here and glorify the more patriarchal forms of capitalism in more mendacious ways: most clearly in Ferdinand Fried, End of Capitalism.)

For Junger, however, the polarity of rigidity and life is not limited to the contrast between the dead economy of the bourgeois and the living technology of the “worker”, it is at the same time the polarity of the dead peace of the bourgeois world and of war, of “struggle as an inner experience”. Junger as a theoretician of the “total mobilization” of the new imperialist war is demagogically as well as romantically-vitalistically enough to contrast this war in the darkness of mere intuition, in the abstractness of the mere “shape” with the rotten and frozen peace: “Not what we fight for is the essential thing, but how we fight.” Which at the same time contains the entire unprincipled imperialist foreign policy of German fascist lackey imperialism in a lyrical-epigrammatic summary.

“Never-ending nothingness” as content of politics

However, the mere polarity of living technology and rigid economy, of living war and dead peace, cannot raise the philosophy of life to an ideology of the “revolutionary” salvation of monopoly capitalism. (Jünger’s romantic, vitalistic utopia is also related to the “nationalism” of Schleicher’s type in very essential contents and is methodologically very close to the economic conception of the social-fascists, to organized capitalism, very objectively against the will of the author.) Professor Freyer, who is already known to us from other contexts, and his student, Hugo Fischer, complete the necessary philosophical turn here. The juxtaposition for them is as follows: “The economy is rigid and dead, the world of the citizen, of politics, is alive. The dominance of the economy is necessarily the death of politics, because the dominance of an impersonal authority with a brief interest perspective is the death of politics; because politics is not compatible with repeating the same reactions over and over again”, says Hugo Fischer, applying Bergson’s juxtaposition of mechanical time and experienced time as the polarity of economy and politics to the present. The fascist “revolution”, the “revolution from the right”, is therefore the emancipation of living politics from the frozen world of the economy. According to Freyer, the state that is to emerge from this revolution is “the collective will of the people: not a status, but a tension, a constructive structure made of lines of force. ... The revolutionary principle inherent in an epoch is in its essence not a structure, not an order, not a build-up, but it is pure force, pure eruption, pure protest ... For what matters is that the new principle, the active nothingness in the dialectic of the present [think of Heidegger! G.L.], that is, pure state power, dares to remain; otherwise it is built in overnight and never comes into action.” What is extremely interesting here is not only the connection between the revolution theorist Freyer and the existential philosophy of nothingness, but also the guilty conscience of the extremist-apologetic fascist champion who has a trembling fear that the moment he changes the social content of his “revolution”, even if it is expressed in such general terms, the inevitable capitalist content comes to the fore. The ideological purity of the “revolution from the right” can only be preserved in a vitalistic way in the intuitive night of Heidegger’s nothingness.

The philosophy of life and the petty bourgeois in crisis

Behind this transformation of the “annihilating nothingness” into the empty activity of the “revolution from the right” stands the acute cyclical crisis in the midst of the crisis of the capitalist system. For no matter how remote the problems of the philosophy of life appear at first sight, no matter how confused and sought-after their solutions are in reality, it must not be overlooked here either that real social problems lie behind all these abstruseties, that these abstruseties are the intellectual reflections of the social existence of the petty bourgeois in the monopoly capitalist period. No matter how much the individual philosophers may have pulled their problems by the hair, behind the whole complex of their polar archetypal phenomenon of rigidity and life lie the real problems of the petty bourgeois, for whom monopoly capitalism is really an irrational destiny, whose life instincts twisted and enslaved by the capitalist system are constantly rebelling in some form against this system, without him being able to mentally penetrate down to the basis of his dissatisfaction and practically eliminate the causes of this dissatisfaction. Capitalism as fate and the irrationalities of life thus correspond, albeit in distorted mental reflections, to the social realities with which the petty bourgeois has to come to terms. It is therefore no coincidence that the various representatives of the philosophy of life, from Nietzsche to Simmel and Rathenau to Spengler, Keyserling and those of today, have had an impact far beyond the circle of academic philosophy in Germany, that their views, admittedly mostly already vulgarized and simplified by newspaper feuilletons, have reached very wide circles of the petty bourgeoisie. In this respect, the philosophy of life performed the most important prelude services for fascism. As we have already seen, the leading thinkers of Lebensphilosophie have formulated decisive philosophical questions of fascism in such a complete manner that the labeled ideologues of fascism need only copy them and adopt them. And the mass effectiveness of the philosophy of life has ideologically cleared the ground for the acceptance of fascist ideas on a large scale in the petty bourgeoisie. In decades of work, the philosophy of life has undermined the trust in the rational solution of life’s questions with the help of science. Of course, this is not an independent achievement of the philosophy of life. On the contrary: its role follows from the overall development of the bourgeois class in the age of imperialism, from the social necessity that philosophy and economics of this time apologetically avoid all important questions, blurring out or denying away all the great problems of society. The emergence and effect of the philosophy of life are not a cause here, but a symptom. But that does not change its importance as a direct ideological link to fascism, or the importance of its practical preparatory work for fascism. Because an atmosphere of thought had to be created of fundamental gullibility, of the view that uncritical behavior is humanly more valuable than a critical approach to problems, if the crude and at first critical glance blatantly contradictory demagogic slogans of fascism are to be believed. Thus all the “sublimations” of the problems by the philosophy of life were prerequisites for the brutal demagogy of fascism to have an effect.

Again, this is not to say that Simmel or Heidegger put the long knife in the hands of the SA man. On the contrary, when he cleans the libraries, he will very often destroy the works of Simmel and Bergson, Freud and Rathenau (all of them having Jewish ancestryu). The philosophy of life, as has been shown, was the necessary ideological expression of parasitic monopoly capitalism. As long as the economic foundations of this monopoly capitalism were solid or at least seemed solid, as long as it was able to offer the petty bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia a secure existence or at least to give them the prospect of a secure existence, this philosophy of life expressed itself in a resigned and apologetic form. But when all the foundations of the system all too obviously began to shake, when the petty bourgeoisie saw itself literally faced with nothing economically and not just philosophically (as in Heidegger), all the anti-capitalist instincts produced by the capitalist development itself and expressed in a distorted and disfigured way by the philosophy of life had to be expressed in explosive form. Today’s philistines gone wild are the same, however, who a few years ago listened to the resigned wisdom of Lebensphilosophie, whose fathers or grandfathers sat at the universities at the feet of Simmel or Husserl, in the Wandervogel movement expressing their romantic protest against the mechanization of life, or making a pilgrimage to Darmstadt to the school of wisdom of Count Keyserling. The “new” that the fascist philosophers bring to vitalism is nothing more than the demagogic-political exploitation of this situation, the exploitation and ruthless further development of that ideological fog that vitalism has brought about precisely by sublimating the problems of romantic anti-capitalism.

Rosenberg as the most radical irrationalist

This political utilization of the thought elements of life philosophy is philosophically the only interesting thing about Rosenberg’s further development. Otherwise he confuses all their motives in an indiscriminately eclectic, levelless muddle even by the standards of today’s philosophy. Rigidity and life, polarity, primal phenomenon, etc. whirl chaotically through his big book. The irrationalism of the philosophy of life is carried to extremes by him in an even more abrupt manner than by his predecessors. He polemicizes for example with the greatest sharpness against the philosopher of “universalism”, Othmar Spann, who also tries to create a philosophy of the corporate state from the eclectic mixture of Romantic and Thomistic elements. Rosenberg regards this closely related philosophy (his colleague Feder raves about Spann) as a “twin brother of individualism”. They are only apparent opponents. “Both are intellectualistic, ie. alienated from nature.” Spann correctly polemicizes against individualism, but he “falls into the same mistakes”. (Philosophically, this polemic is also a small borrowing from the philosophy of life. It can be found, for example, quite literally in the phenomenologist Th. Litt.) It is not only worth mentioning because it sharply illuminates the degree of fascist irrationalism, but for two more reasons. First, this polemic reflects ideologically the struggle that the NSDAP is waging against the Catholic and oppositional Center Party in Germany, and second, against the governing Christian Social Party in Austria.

The religious crisis of the petty bourgeoisie

Secondly, and closely related to this, the fundamental contradiction of fascism, the mobilization of the masses with demagogic slogans of a sham revolution and the actual restoration of capitalism, also comes to light here. The fascist agitators clearly recognized that as a result of the war and the post-war crisis, the trust of the broadest masses in the old religions had been shaken, and that fascism, even in its agitation in the field of religion, must appear to be bringing something new, “revolutionary”. Rosenberg’s anti-Christian tirades, taken from Nietzsche, fall into this category, and in particular the Wotan cult of the early period of the fascist movement was an attempt to demagogically abuse this dissatisfaction of the masses (very similar to the “religious socialism” of the social-fascists). Demagogy, the misleading of the masses, lies not only in the fact that one religion has been replaced by another religion, in that, to use Lenin’s words, the yellow devil has been replaced by the blue devil, but also in the fact that this whole movement, aimed at “religious replacements”, was insincere from the start, that the fascists never really took their anti-Christianity and anti-clericalism seriously; that their measures after the seizure of power, e.g. the implementation of a strictly religious regime in the schools based on the old Prussian model, in no way signify a radical change.

On the one hand, this contradiction is only a special manifestation of the basic contradiction of the entire fascist movement, which we are already familiar with many times, on the other hand, it sharply expresses the differentiation in the religious sphere among the petty-bourgeois followers of the fascists. A part of the petty bourgeoisie, who has become wild as a result of the crisis, longs economically for the golden age of the pre-war period, the time before inflation, rising prices, wage cuts, unemployment, etc., and accordingly also passionately clings religiously to the time-honored religion. Another part, however, has lost its faith in the old religion as its faith in capitalism was shaken. Just as they are striving confusedly out of capitalism and towards a confused socialism, the old religion no longer satisfies them. But the very same confusion is reflected in seeking a new religion or the renewal of the old religion. For example, a recently published pamphlet (H. Beyer, Deutschland ohne Protestantismus?) writes: “The waiting people stand in front of the church, but not in the church. Where does that come from? The church is not popular enough. It is not combative; its representatives are loyal guardians of a bourgeois false morality; it is too capitalistic.” And from this point of view, a “synchronization of ethnicity and religion” is demanded, ie. a Nazification of the church. The reasons given above, both the differences in the masses themselves and the conflicting interests of the big-bourgeois leadership of fascism and the misled masses, produce insoluble contradictions here too. The all too radical Wotan cult could be liquidated in time, but the Gleichschaltung of the Protestant church already brought about violent conflicts. The clergymen’s and theologians’ quarrel that broke out here is only interesting insofar as it shows how the same contradictions must break out in the most diverse forms in the most diverse areas, and how little the “alignment” of all state and social organs by fascism has led and can lead to the strengthening and consolidation of the power base of the German bourgeoisie.

The Führer problem

The transformation of the philosophy of life into a philosophy of fascist activism comes out most clearly in the problem of the leader. So far we have been able to observe the most diverse preliminary work on the fascist conception of the Führer, from sociologists such as Max Weber to the aristocratic epistemology of the philosophers of life. Here, too, the originality of the intellectual achievement of the fascist ideologues must not be overestimated. For if, for example, the neo-Kantian Max Weber repeatedly emphasizes in his analyses of political action, of the leader’s charisma that only the chances of the various possibilities for action are accessible to a rational analysis with regard to their consequences, but that the action itself does not arise from a rational analysis, but is essentially irrational, then despite Max Weber’s left-wing position, great preliminary work has been done here in relation to the fascist ideology of the leader. (It is further intensified by Weber’s “democratic-Bonapartist” political dreams.) The aristocratic epistemology, which only allows access to the truth to a human species that is specially capable of doing so, is of course a further step beyond Weber to the fascist theory of leaders. Rosenberg just had to follow Chamberlain and others to concoct the myth of blood as the basis for access to Germanic truth and honor in general, in order to find a philosophical basis for the rule of the fascist elite Leader: Adolf Hitler.

Admittedly, the same insoluble contradictions that we have encountered in other contexts, which everywhere can only be superficially covered up by a decorative clectic facade, are hidden behind this problem of leadership. Fascism had to ignite a great mass movement in order to temporarily save the monopoly capitalist system in this situation of acute crisis, and its whole theory is based on a sovereign contempt for the masses, whom it intends to lead into the ever harder servitude of monopoly capitalism. With the seizure of power, the hypnotizing, suggestive, irrationalistic, demagogic propaganda ran into obvious contradictions to practice. (The fascists had to tone down many of their social-demagogic slogans before they seized power or even remove them from their program.) This contradiction of the hard facts of monopoly capitalism, which can neither be eliminated by vitalistic sublimation nor by Goebbelsian propaganda, has forced the National Socialists to rapidly transform their mass movement into open enslavement of the masses, their social demagogy into blind exploitation of monopoly capitalism, their national demagogy into capitulation to the Versailles system. The extremist demagogues must become good monopoly capitalist “statesmen.” And it is interesting to note that on this one point Alfred Rosenberg proved himself a prophet. He writes about the leader problem: “In order to rouse souls in the midst of today’s chaotic confusion, sermons of Lutheran natures that hypnotize and writers who consciously remagnetize hearts are needed. But the Lutheran leader to the coming kingdom must be clear about the fact that he must renounce the Bismarck system after the victory and also apply Moltke’s principles to politics.” Translated from the pompous historical-philosophical speech into plain everyday language, this means that national and social demagogy has to step down after it has attained state power and hand over real state power to the real masters, the masters of monopoly capitalism (the Moltke type). Whether this transition to the “Moltke type” takes place with or without personnel changes, whether Luther-Hitler has to step down personally or remain in operation as a façade sculpture equipped with loudspeakers, is a question of the twenty-fifth rank.