Georg Lukacs. German Classical Humanism. 1942

German Classical Humanism

Written: 1942 in Tashkent
First published: as Der Humanismus der deutschen Klassik, in: Wie ist Deutschland zum Zentrum der reaktionären Ideologie geworden? (Veröffentlichungen des Lukács-Archivs), 1982;
Translated: by Anton P.

German Classicism is the ideological reflex among the best of the German people to the events of the French Revolution, its preparations and its consequences. This very simple and historically clear statement is in sharp contrast to the entire bourgeois reactionary view of Germany’s ideological heyday. The breaking of this connection, against which only Franz Mehring fought vigorously in recent times, was the basis of all reactionary legends about German Classicism. In these legends, the classics’ relation to the Enlightenment is initially distorted and obscured by contrasting the German Classicism with the English-French Enlightenment. It is understandable that fascism, which ruthlessly endeavors to destroy or falsify all progressive traditions, derives the greatest benefit from the distortion of this connection.

It must therefore be stated at the outset that the view that classical humanism in Germany had waged a struggle against the Enlightenment is fundamentally incorrect and does not correspond to the facts. Some of the main ideologues of this period polemicized against the German forms of Enlightenment. In order to properly understand the character of these disputes, however, we must be clear about the social character of the German Enlightenment in the middle of the eighteenth century and especially at its end. The specific nature of this German Enlightenment consisted in the adaptation by the petty bourgeoisie and, above all, by its intelligentsia, of small-state absolutism, in the attempt to soften and reform the most blatant forms of its feudal side and to adapt them to the German petty-bourgeois “understanding.” In these attempts at reform the German Enlighteners have earned a great deal of merit, and anyone who knows the history of classical humanism in some detail knows that many of its leading representatives agreed with them on some issues and often differed from them only in greater decisiveness. Despite these merits, the ideology of the German Enlightenment is narrow, philistine and ultimately often leads to a petty idealization of the existing political, social and ideological miserability.

Classical humanism in Germany has been an opposition movement from the start; the ideological attempt to unite all bourgeois forces against small-state absolutism. Above all, it is the first ideological formulation of the striving for national unity, albeit initially only in cultural areas, in an ideological, historical form (Lessing’s Hamburg Dramaturgy, Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen). For the first time in Germany, it expresses the glorification of earlier bourgeois-democratic revolutions and their ideology (Klopstock’s reception of Milton, the great poet of the English Revolution, the dramas of young Schiller and his story of the Dutch Revolution, Goethe’s Egmont). The worthlessness of feudal absolutism in the small principalities (Lessing’s Emilia Galotti, Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe). At the same time, however – and here it goes not only in terms of radicalism, but also in terms of quality of the German Enlightenment – it gives an extraordinarily sharp criticism of bourgeois (petty-bourgeois-philistine-like) life in Germany. In doing so, however, the critical realism of the German humanists rises to the point where the contradictions of bourgeois society itself are presented; and not only in directly and critically attacking forms, such as the dramas of the young Lenz, but in the “prophetic” exposure of such contradictions in bourgeois society, which began to show themselves in the more capitalistically developed countries only in this period, and which only in the 19th century have become generally evident (Goethe’s Werther). This is followed by a large-scale positive portrayal of the new man in the emerging bourgeois society, in his struggles with the old reality, with his inner contradictions (Minna von Barnhelm, Nathan, Faust, Prometheus, etc.).

Because of this breadth and decisiveness, classical humanism stands in opposition to the German Enlightenment; it means overcoming its timidity, its philistinism, its narrow and limited horizons. On the other hand, the whole German humanist movement stands – consciously – on the shoulders of the Franco-English Enlightenment, is its worthy continuation, and often raises its problems to a higher level. Only in one question, that of materialistic philosophy, does German humanism fall behind its own Anglo-French role models. This is a consequence of Germany’s economic backwardness, where the development of the material productive forces, the social basis for the development and expansion of materialistic philosophy, had to be lacking. As far as materialism invaded Germany, it appeared in its courtly aristocratic, not in its democratically revolutionary form. (Just think of the sympathy at the court of Frederick II for French materialism.) In Germany, for example, the caricature-style struggle against court materialism with its moral nihilism in the figure of Franz Moor in Schiller’s Robbers could arise. And however wrong and unjust may this attack be from the standpoint of general philosophical progress, it does accurately reflect the social backwardness of Germany, this is indeed a violent and passionate attack against the feudal absolutism of the German courts and is therefore in no exclusive contradiction to the basic social tendencies of the French Enlightenment.

There are still a number of mainly aesthetic questions on which the German humanists took a stand against individual representatives of the French Enlightenment, above all against Voltaire. Here, however, from the standpoint of the international formation of the bourgeois class, they represented the higher standpoint, a more decisive rejection of the traditions of absolute monarchy, in which Voltaire was still partially caught. When Lessing, Herder and the young Goethe took a sharp stand against Voltaire’s disregard for Shakespeare and Homer, they were not only factually, socially and aesthetically correct, but also represented a higher, more revolutionary standpoint of the Enlightenment than Voltaire and were in full harmony with certain Enlightenment tendencies in England. The reactionary bourgeois construction of legends clings time and again to these details, fails to recognize their social nature and uses them to construct an exclusive contrast between the revolutionary ideology of the European bourgeoisie of the Enlightenment and German humanism. As a brief addition to what we have said so far, one must remember that Enlighteners such as Diderot and Rousseau, such as Shaftesbury, Fielding and Sterne were fundamental to the emergence and development of classical German humanism and that its influence was never denied by its important representatives, but on the contrary, it was enthusiastically affirmed.

Of course, classical German humanism is not revolutionary in the sense of the French Enlightenment. At that time, German conditions were by no means pushing in the direction of creating the objective preconditions for a bourgeois democratic revolution as in France or for an “industrial revolution” as in England Although it helped to mentally prepare the bourgeois revolution through its entire life-work objectively and ideologically, politically, however, it was by no means on the standpoint of a violent overthrow. Its political and social criticism sometimes shows similar limits. All of this reveals Germany’s backwardness, the narrowness and pettiness of its social conditions. This backwardness is also reflected in the fact that the religious, aesthetic, and moral criticism of conditions prevails over the purely social and political; and not only because of the external pressure on the part of absolutism, which forced people to hide their attacks in a roundabout way, but also because the many abuses and contradictions of the given social situation on religious, aesthetic and moral areas were easier and more adequate for the German humanists to grasp than directly socially and politically. All of this results in a certain abstractness in the critique of social relations. It is less the earthly and real class struggle than a kind of “spiritual battle in the heavens” that is being fought here. But if one observes carefully the real content of these struggles, this abstractness can easily be translated into earthly concrete terms.

Since Germany, as Marx said in the 19th century, suffered not only from the fact that its capitalism was lagging behind, but also from the fact that it was a capitalism, bourgeois society appears among the classical humanists of Germany not only in its lagging German forms, but in their real contradictions. German Classicism here continues the work of the last offshoots of the Franco-English Enlightenment, Rousseau, Sterne and Diderot in Rameau’s Nephew, in which the contradictions of bourgeois society for the first time appear not as isolated phenomena, not as accidental misfortunes, but as essential features of this society, and the greatness of the German humanists consists not least in the fact that these contradictions, who in the extremely undeveloped bourgeois society of Germany could naturally only exist in undeveloped germ form, were nevertheless grasped and represented on a very high intellectual and moral level. The undeveloped German conditions also contribute – paradoxically – to this. Since in backward Germany, where, according to Marx, there were only decaying classes and not yet ascending classes, the class struggle and class consciousness (also of the ruling class) necessarily had to be undeveloped, important and intrepid men could deal with the contradictions of bourgeois society, especially in the abstract way we have already indicated, to think through to the end with a more ruthless energy and consistency and mentally carry it out, as was sometimes possible in the countries of the Anglo-French Enlightenment. Thus, in his portrayal of the contradictions of capitalist society – Werther – Goethe surpasses his models Richardson and Rousseau, and so the young Hegel adopts the correct conception of capitalist society from the English economists, but recognizes in it a contradiction that inevitably had to remain hidden from Adam Smith. Here for German humanism lies the positive downside of Germany’s backwardness in economic, political and social respects. By making the greatest possible use of the advantages resulting from this situation, the German humanists are the most worthy heirs and fulfillers of the Anglo-French Enlightenment.

All of the tendencies described here increase under the influence of the French Revolution. The reflexes of this world-historical event on Germany created the real German classicism, brought about a period that already goes beyond the Enlightenment as a higher level of development of the human spirit. A number of reactionary legends must also be destroyed about the relations between German Classicism and the French Revolution. As a result of the backwardness of Germany, as a result of the attachment of most German humanists to the forms of life of small-state absolutism, one can find petty, philistine remarks about the French Revolution (especially about the period 1792-94) in many of them; for example, especially in Goethe himself. It is natural that the bourgeois, reactionary portrayal of classical German humanism clings to such statements and wants to use this to construct a falsified image of the relation between this brilliant period of German development and the French Revolution.

These statements are really significant and historically essential only in so far as they clearly indicate the fact that the German humanists were not plebeian revolutionaries, not supporters of the plebeian, Jacobin implementation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution; at least not most of the summit figures of this period (although, for example, Fichte appeared as a philosophical defender of Jacobinism, Georg Forster died in exile in Paris for his Jacobin convictions). It is true, however, that this opposition to the particular Jacobin form of French revolutionary development was not the main intellectual and philosophical line of German Classicism, the line of Goethe and Schiller, Kant and Hegel. They saw in the French Revolution – viewed as an overall process – a tremendous step forward taken by the human race, they have always viewed this step as a basis of new life, as an inevitable stage in human development.

This conception of the French Revolution is most consciously historically visible in Hegel; Even at a later age, when he was already “reconciled” to the Prussian development, he called the French Revolution “a magnificent sunrise. All thinking Beings have participated in celebrating this holy day. A sublime emotion swayed men at that time, an enthusiasm of reason pervaded the world, as if now had come the reconciliation of the Divine Principle with the world.[1] And Goethe, whose unsuccessful comedies, which deal with the caricatures of German Jacobinism, are made so important in the pages of reactionary literary history, soon recognized the significance of this world event; as early as 1797 he wrote to a friend that he, the great lover of Italy, would rather go to Paris than Italy, for the butterflies in Paris interested him more than the mere caterpillars in Italy. And at a later age he wrote to his friend, the former Napoleonic envoy, Count Reinhard, that the French Revolution was a subject that occupied him continuously, from which he could not get rid of, but which he could not fully master either. How much Goethe understood the French Revolution in a similar way to Hegel at the end of the 18th century is shown by a few lines of the bourgeois epic Hermann and Dorothea:

Denn wer leugnet es wohl, daß hoch sich das Herz ihm erhoben,
Ihm die freiere Brust mit reineren Pulsen geschlagen,
Als sich der erste Glanz der neuen Sonne heranhob,
Als man hörte vom Rechte der Menschen, das Allen gemein sei,
Von der begeisternden Freiheit und von der löblichen Gleichheit!
Damals hoffte Jeder sich selbst zu leben; es schien sich
Aufzulösen das Band, das viele Länder umstrickte,
Das der Müßiggang und der Eigennutz in der Hand hielt.
Schauten nicht alle Völker in jenen drängenden Tagen
Nach der Hauptstadt der Welt, die es schon so lange gewesen,
Und jetzt mehr als je den herrlichen Namen verdiente?

(Who will pretend to deny that his heart swelled high in his bosom,
And that his freer breast with purer pulses was beating;
When we beheld the new sun arise in his earliest splendor,
When of the rights of men we heard, which to all should be common,
Were of a righteous equality told, and inspiriting freedom?
Every one hoped that then he should live his own life, and the fetters,
Binding the various lands, appeared their hold to be loosing,-
Fetters that had in the hand of sloth been held and self-seeking.
Looked not the eyes of all nations, throughout that calamitous season,
Towards the world’s capital city, for so it had long been considered,
And of that glorious title was now, more than ever, deserving?) [2]

We repeat that this positive and fruitful effect of the French Revolution relates to the whole of the period, and therefore also relates to Napoleon I, whom the German humanists regarded as the heir and executor of the French Revolution. Here, too, the reactionary legends of history must be destroyed. The sympathy of Goethe and Hegel in particular for Napoleon is so evident that it cannot possibly be denied. It is therefore reinterpreted in the sense that “the genius” Goethe simply admired “the genius” Napoleon. On the other hand, we must remember that the Napoleonic conquests in Germany and the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine were combined with the energetic liquidation of the feudal remnants, that Napoleon in Germany often actually appeared as the executor of the legacy of the French Revolution, of the struggle against feudal absolutism.

Insofar as circumstances permitted, Goethe and Hegel did not at all hide their political sympathy for Napoleon and his system in Germany. It is most clearly expressed in their rejection of the wars of liberation, in their uninterrupted bitter mockery of the short-sighted illusions of those patriots who expected a real liberation of Germany from feudal-absolutist military powers. At the time of the Confederation of the Rhine, when Hegel was the editor of a newspaper in Bamberg, he paid close attention to the negotiations between the South German princes of the Confederation of the Rhine with Napoleon about the internal order of their states. He hoped nothing from the German princes and only placed his hope on the “great constitutional law teacher in Paris” who with his word of power would regulate the internal questions of Germany in a progressive sense. It is in this sense that Hegel’s well-known saying at the time of the Battle of Jena that he saw “the world-spirit on horseback” in Napoleon should be understood; in this sense, Goethe’s admiration for “the genius” of Napoleon should also be understood.

The German classical period thus reflects – in the abstracting sense indicated above – the overall development of the French Revolution as a unified and coherent process. And through the high level of understanding of some of the most important determinations of this process, German Classicism finally goes beyond the Enlightenment, takes an intellectual-historical position that, in a certain sense, parallels the first great utopians and is thus made one of the three ources of Marxism.

Of course, we cannot even hint at the thought system of the German classical period, especially that of Goethe and Hegel, we have to limit ourselves to showing one main point. Engels shows, especially in Anti-Dühring, the most important ideological turn which the great French Revolution evoked: the rational realm of the Enlightenment has proven itself to be the realm of the bourgeoisie, the realm of capitalism, and in it all contradictions of capitalism are economic. The great utopian systems of Saint-Simon and Fourier emerged in France from the recognition of this contradiction, and from this source emerged the utopian necessity of socialism. The German classical period, especially the life-work of Goethe and Hegel, neither politically nor socially goes beyond the horizon of bourgeois society. The German classics, as ideologues, are necessarily the pioneers of the bourgeois revolution in feudal-absolutist Germany. However, from the paradoxical situation that as Germans they are pre-revolutionary ideologues and as deep observers of international world events they are post-revolutionary thinkers and poets, a special conception of society and history arises for them, which represents a climax of the progressive period of bourgeois development.

We repeat: Goethe and Hegel, viewed socially, did not have a horizon that would point beyond bourgeois society, but they understand bourgeois society even under the influence of the events of the French Revolution as something contradictingly progressive. They affirm progress, understand it more deeply and dialectically than their great forerunners in the Enlightenment could ever do, but they see in progress itself a contradicting historical process. This deep intellectual experience and thought-through of the problems of the era of the French Revolution leads them to elaboration, to a philosophical and poetic generalization of the contradictions of development, to the recognition of contradiction as a driving force, as an engine of the historical, the progressive development of mankind in general. This point of view is now applied in a broader and deeper generalization to the whole history of nature and society. In this way, Goethe, in his conception of nature, becomes the forerunner of the theory of evolution; thus, in Hegel’s philosophy of history, the development of human society appears for the first time as a unified, dialectically moving process which, with unstoppable necessity, produces human progress through all contradictions.

Such a correct recognition of the contradictory nature of development leads Goethe and Hegel to also dialectically grasp the negative moment in the history of human progress, to see in the negative not only that which is to be negated, as the Enlightenment in general did, but an essential inevitable driving force of progressive movement. Thus with Goethe and Hegel there is a new conception of the progressive principle emerged in human development: the historical defense of human progress. The Enlightenment had a frequently anti-historical or at least unclear historical standpoint: it placed the demands of reason imperatively against historical developments and historical facts. From the reactionary struggle against the French Revolution, a pseudo-historicism emerged, which used the theoretical imperfections of the Enlightenment’s conception of history to exclusively oppose history and progress, history and rationality of human society. When the German classics, under the influence of the French Revolution, overcame the imperfections in the historicism of the Enlightenment, they found this high standpoint of the historical defense of progress, which contained a brilliant annihilation of reactionary pseudo-historicism.

Even with this central question it is clear that German humanism was in an uninterrupted struggle with the most varied of reactionary tendencies. Its beginnings are marked not only by overcoming the bourgeois tendencies of the German Enlightenment, but also by combating religious or semi-religious opposition movements that flirted more or less with reaction and were directed against the narrowness of the German Enlightenment. In the period after the great French Revolution, the main struggle of classical German humanism against the reactionary tendencies of Romanticism is concentrated. Since this is a crucial point in the formation of reactionary legends about German Classicism, since the main endeavor of the more recent bourgeois historiography of literature and philosophy is to blur the differences between Classicism and Romanticism in Germany, the main points of their contradictions must be briefly emphasized, all the more so as they are of decisive importance for the later ideological development in Germany, as the offensive weapons to destroy progressive ideology largely come from the arsenal of reactionary Romanticism.

The first contrast seems to be purely aesthetic: Classical humanism saw its model in the thought and art of classical antiquity, and Romanticism in that of the Middle Ages. However, the purely aesthetic character of this contrast disappears when one considers on the one hand that the renewal of antiquity was the ideological basis of the heroic upsurge in the French Revolution, that since the Renaissance every progressive trend, from politics to art, has found its role model in the ancient republican heroism in which ancient art found clarity, simplicity, folklore, and humanity. On the other hand, going back to the Middle Ages means, politically a glorification of feudalism, economically a recourse to pre-capitalist relations of production. socially the idealization of the class stratification of society, its “eternal,” “God-willed” hierarchy, ideologically the proclamation of belief in authority, the subordination of thought and science to religion, artistically the predominance of primitive, as yet undeveloped art over the great development of all human possibilities that reside in it, which the art of the Renaissance revealed. On the other hand, as Marx and Engels have repeatedly emphasized, Greek antiquity represents the first great period of dialectical thought, such an upswing, such a development of dialectics, that in this respect the whole of later philosophy signifies a relapse towards it, that it was only in classical German philosophy that this often torn thread was consciously taken up again. Medieval thinking, on the other hand, is characterized by the fact that philosophy and science were degraded to the “handmaids of theology,” that the church and priesthood assumed an aristocratic monopoly on the knowledge of truth, etc.

How strongly these opposites turn from the aesthetic to the social and political, how they permeate all areas of art and science, can perhaps be illustrated most clearly in one of the main moments of the break between Hegel and Schelling. Schelling took the view that adequate knowledge of the truth is only possible on the basis of intuition, the “intellectual intuition”; however, only naturally privileged individuals are capable of this, the people, the crowd, is from the outset – naturally given – excluded from the knowledge of objective truth. Hegel called this view outrageous in one of his lectures. In reality, of course, not everyone would become marshal or king, but nobody would be denied the possibility of becoming marshal or king from the outset; and in Hegel’s view this path to knowledge of objective truth is open to everyone, even if in reality not every person ends this path. The opposition between Hegel and Schelling, between Classicism and Romanticism, is therefore not only exclusive but also political in the most complex questions of epistemology: the opposition between democracy and aristocracy in epistemology, the opposition between progress and reaction in philosophy.

We have already touched on the actual political dividing line between Classicism and Romanticism in our earlier considerations: it concerns the position for or against Napoleon and the Napoleonic liquidation of the feudal remnants in Germany. (It must of course be noted that, due to Germany’s political and social backwardness on this particular question, one can discover both retrograde elements in the position taken for Napoleon and certain tendencies towards progress in the struggle against him, and that not an unimportant part of the Romantics – Kleist, Arnim, Brentano, Adam Müller etc. – in the fight against Napoleon, opposed and bitterly fought precisely against the progressive tendencies which Stein and Gneisenau represented.)

The contrast between antiquity and the Middle Ages as a model also includes opposing positions on religion and mysticism. The renewal of antiquity could of course never lead to a religious renewal. The enthusiasm for antiquity included a “paganism,” a polemical or indifferent rejection of Christianity. Of course, the classical humanists are not materialists, not conscious atheists; they, especially in Hegel, very often make extremely ambiguous, religiously interpretable statements. But the dialectical worldview carried out, even as an idealistic dialectic, the elimination of God from nature and from social development. The Goethean and Hegelian dialectics are often, as Engels repeatedly emphasized in relation to Hegel, only an unconscious materialism turned upside down. On the other hand, it is just as natural that the return of the Middle Ages, which the Romantics sought, from an “artistic preference,” as August Wilhelm Schlegel initially called his enthusiasm for medieval art, inevitably had to grow into a glorification of Catholicism, of ecclesiastical reaction.

But even in the purely aesthetic field, Romanticism ultimately means a step backwards, although it cannot be denied that this movement has produced an extraordinarily large number of new and important things for art and art history. It has broadened the scope of our observation of art, but at the same time introduced enthusiasm for the primitive and exotic instead of the spiritually and artistically perfected. It has contributed a lot to the universality of art and of the observation of art, extensively, materially and in terms of content, but at the same time confused and disturbed real universalism, the historical demonstration of the great progressive path in art. The polemical battles that Goethe in particular waged against this tendency therefore have a great ideological and political meaning. Goethe made all the new conquests and suggestions of Romanticism his own; he never denied the historical significance of Oriental or medieval art; on the contrary, it was precisely he who assigned them their important historical position. If he violently attacked their defenders, he has fought in advance various tendencies of the emerging modern decadence, has fought for the independence of art, for its freedom from religious tutelage, has took the great line of defending the really great, deeply realistic and genuinely popular art against distortions. And above all, Goethe rejected every nationalistic prejudice, every pseudo-aesthetic degradation of the equality of peoples in the history and evaluation of art. So he defended French art and literature against the chauvinistic disparagement on the part of the German Romantics; Thus he was enthusiastic about the discovery and publication of old German poetry, but he resisted the fact that for nationalistic reasons, for example, the Nibelungenlied was played off against Homer. He happily welcomed the Romantics’ collection of German folk songs, fairy tales, etc., but at the same time had an equally lively interest in Serbian or modern Greek folk songs and in the beginnings of Czech literature.

German classical humanism is the ideology of the most advanced class in Germany at that time. He dominated the literature and thought of this period, but as a result of the social conditions already described is necessarily only the ideological and artistic expression of the most advanced minority and stands in a certain isolation from the broad masses, which must necessarily be expressed in the whole character of its philosophy and literature.

Classical humanism has an upscale and pathetic conception of man and humanity that it adopted from the 18th century, but for its part historicized and made dialectical. It worked the experiences of the revolutionary period and in places also those of the “industrial revolution” in England into its conception of man. (Just think of Hegel’s relationship to the classical economy of England.) The emotive human being, his universality, his all-round development of all his abilities that classical humanism propagates, stands for it in the midst of the contradictions of bourgeois society. Goethe shapes these contradictions in Faust, but also in Reineke Fuchs, Wilhelm Meister, Wahlverwandschaften etc.

It is about the development of the universal abilities of man, about his striving for their all-round development, but already now in dialectical interaction with the division of labor in bourgeois society. The contradictions of this situation, which drive the development of the individual and of the whole human race, determine the conception of man in classical German humanism. The main concern here is to philosophically demonstrate the contradictory development and at the same time the possibility of the ultimate harmonious cooperation of the various human abilities, instincts, talents and passions and to shape them poetically. Fourier has shown with brilliant dialectic and great satire that the passions in capitalist society must necessarily have contradictory and mutually destructive effects, and his description of the socialist state has one of its climaxes precisely in the fact that there the passions promote one another harmoniously and contribute for the development of multifarious and harmonious people. As shown, Goethe and Hegel have no socialist horizon. They fight for the harmony of the many-sided human being within the framework of bourgeois society, with regard to which, since they have only experienced their beginnings, they could legitimately still have illusions. But their dreams of bourgeois society are very often expressed in an extremely self-critical way, were fruitful and progressive. The classical humanists called on people to fight against the destructive tendencies of capitalist society; Like Ricardo, they saw (here too in sharp contrast to Romanticism) that the development of the productive forces, even in its capitalist form, involves a hitherto unimagined higher development of human abilities. As a result of all these reasons, the struggle of man for the harmony of his abilities does not appear to them necessarily in vain, even in capitalist society; it is beneficial for the individual and fruitful and progressive for the human race even in the event of the tragic downfall of the individual.

For the further development of German ideology, the poetically and philosophically proclaimed tendency towards harmony of feeling, understanding and reason is particularly important here. The contradictions of capitalist society are reflected in the individual as a sometimes hostile contradiction of their individual mental faculties. The normal gauntlet resolves these conflicts in the form of the slavish subordination of spontaneous feelings and philosophical reason to the domination of the “realpolitical” narrow mind. The interesting and complicated gauntlet of Romantic opposition to capitalism, in turn, glorifies feeling and intuition and gives them predominance versus the despised understanding and makes reason subordinate to intuition.

Goethe and Hegel, on the other hand, recognize the deep inner connection, the inner unity of these mental faculties and strive for a rationality of the educated man – in which feeling and understanding in the Hegelian dialectical sense are abolished, that is, at the same time preserved and raised to a higher level. They recognize, of course, that in capitalist reality there is a contradiction between the mental faculties, that, as Hegel says, “there are also unilaterally mindless hearts and heartless minds.” But he continues: “... But it is not philosophy which should take such untruths of existence and of mere imagining for truth – take the worthless for the essential nature.[3] Such a worldview is also the basis of the great poetic creations of Goethe, above all of Faust.

This conception of life and development possibilities in German humanism is based on its relationship to the historical, progressive development of the human race. The belief in the possibility of the harmony of mental faculties in the individual human being is based on the evidence of a forward striving development of the whole human race. Reason can fruitfully and positively penetrate intuition, feeling and understanding in the individual and raise it to a higher level only because the development of the whole human race is rational, that is, it leads to freedom and progress. That is the content of Hegel’s philosophy of world history; that is the basis of the Goethean conception of world literature. In this conception, the individual is only a scaled-down image of the entire human race, the history of which it experiences and reproduces in a shortened and scaled-down form (“Phenomenology of Spirit,” “Faust”).

This great conception of man and humanity is by no means limited to narrowly conceived written history. Despite certain idealistic distortions, Hegel has the ingeniously forward-looking conception that man has made himself man through his work. Goethe, for his part, always viewed man as a part of nature and the development of nature and already in a relatively early period denied the radical anatomical difference between man and mammals and enforced his insight against the prevailing view of natural research at that time (intervertebral bones). Because the classical humanists reawakened the dialectic of the Greeks and concretized and continued it at the level of the highest scientific quality at that time, thereby, having become the forerunners of the theory of evolution, of the theory of the inevitability of dialectical progress in nature and society, they were able to defend progress in all areas of human life in a new, dialectical and historical way.


1. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, 1840, p. 535

2. Goethe, Hermann und Dorothea, 1797

3. Hegel, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, 3rd edition, 1830