The Romantic Rebellion
I. The Enlightenment was internationalist; Romantic rebels were nationalist.
II. Enlightenment prejudices versus the Romantic rebellion.
1. Man's nature does not change; rather, the environment must be manipulated to optimize a given quantity of human potential.
2. Disinterested above passion and class commitments; objective; analytically reasonable.
III. Romantic Creation
1. The Romantic Age invented historicism—the mythopoetics of nationalism and its becoming. This nationalism in conjunction with racism and imperialism led to the First World War. We contrast this scenario with the internationalism of the Enlightenment philosophers who were willing to force men to be free. The means do, however, affect the ends.
2. Aesthetics and politics merge in the Romantic period in which ideals of the sublime in nature are contrasted to the ugliness of the political realm. The romantics contrast the purity of beauty in nature and their poems with the science and cosmopolitanism of the Enlightenment intellectuals to show how human nature and nature itself had been raped in the name of progress.
Romantic Rebellion: Themes
Defined themselves against Enlightenment and Age of Reason
a) heroic morality versus abstract mathematical reality and utilitarianism (Nietzsche versus Newton): the ethics of calculation
b) conservative versus revolutionary politics of the French Revolution
c) organic evolution of society and nature versus the inevitability of progress of the Industrial Revolution (inorganic, mechanical clock the model) with its rape of nature; isolated and alienated genius (the mad poet, philosopher) in opposition to society's customs, positive laws, and conventions with the rise of the bourgeoisie and mass man; country over city—more healthy and wholesome; descent into insanity can penetrate a deeper reality than commonplace exercise of reason; power of the unconscious over the conscious
d) emotion over intellect
e) status quo liberal conservatism versus revolutionary impulses of foreign and domestic radicals
f) understanding versus explanation; feelings/empathy versus the laws of science and utilitarian calculation; language is not reality, intuition is; many little truths replace Big Truth; the metaphysics of Enlightenment
g) reason and its universalism rejected.
i) politics of poetry versus politics of prose; poetry fathoms feelings that mere writing cannot penetrate; subjective motion in verse as opposed to reification of the dead, objective word; chaos versus order and structure.
The Romantics react against the triumph of reason and science. Romanticism says No. Romanticism is a radical negation and antithesis of science, which subjugates human volition to will truth and knowledge, whose subjective dimension has been factored out by the impersonal forces of the modern world with its Enlightenment, metaphysical Truth (versus truths), and the role of science in objectifying history and industry to a commodity status. The Age of Reason proclaimed a movement toward an inevitable end ("process"). Progress leaves man and his individuality behind as an accidental figure and byproduct bereft of will to power. Mass or General Man emerges, dehumanized in the capitalist mode of production.
Romanticism is a reaction to social engineering. Romantics oppose the line of rational and rationalizing thought and its applications from the French Revolution to totalitarian systems. The common denominator is terror, which led to the destruction of Enlightenment reason itself.
The scientific method abstracts from reality. It gives pragmatic techniques that are successful but do not illuminate how our perceptions and conceptions develop—linear versus nonlinear discourse. This tension climaxes in the two cultures of human versus natural sciences. There is no real cause and effect in human behavior—multiple factors illuminate a particular individual's situation. Each individual has a unique reaction to an extreme situation or crisis—no real common threads linking Righteous Gentiles, for example. Sempo Sugihara's and Oskar Schindler's behavior was not predictable. We can look back and make constructs of their conduct. They are Romantic heroes who took chaos and imposed their own will to power to shape unexpected outcomes. David Hume talked about "constant conjunctions"—in reality, probability theory to predict how people will comport themselves in a situation.
VI. Dualistic Worldview
The faith/reason division of the medieval era and the religion/science division of the early modern era had become one of subject/object, inner/outer, man/world, humanities/science. A new form of the double-Truth universe was now established. The romantics believed that nature is spirit in man and the nation's history: naturphilosophie.
a. He overcomes subject/object dualism of Kant's phenomenology. Spirit or mind permeates being and wends its way to a final destination in Truth.
b. The Absolute Idea manifests there is a telos in history's development, by contradiction to the rational state in its struggle to realize freedom for the collectivity. Great man theory of history.
c. The dialectic is the struggle in history between theses and antitheses wherein at the end there is a grand synthesis in overcoming facts and values in all their contradictions, with the climax in the freedom of the Rechtsstaat.
d. Nationalism a progressive force to withstand Napoleon's empire-building in Europe. Germany under occupation.
e. Ideas (consciousness) precede material conditions of life: spirituality prevails over canonization of the laws of nature.
2. Karl Marx
Marx later stood Hegel right side up in the dialectic. Materialism versus idealism. Marx was an Enlightenment figure who had a negative reaction to the Romantic rebellion. He said that their position represented the class interests of the bourgeoisie and hence the cultural forces of domination in society. Marx had contempt for those who wanted to be agents in history without knowing the laws of scientific socialism.
3. Friedrich Nietzsche
Reality is a plurality of perspectives. There is no ground to being other than the will to power in the context of being beyond good and evil and hence free to create. The cosmos has a force that cannot be explained, only experienced fully in the interior life and then reacted upon by force of will. The doctrine of eternal recurrence. If you were to be reincarnated over and over, could you live with yourself and the consequences of your actions on others? Space collapsed into eternal time. Same human dilemmas recur over and over again.
4. Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung
They were powerfully influenced by the Romantics. They understood the power of the irrational in the individual, culture, and racial archetypes. Thus, hidden conflicts and forbidden desires render men unhappy and neurotic and at war with each other and society's values. With the bifurcation of the modern mind between Romantic mysticism in conjunction with depth psychology on the one hand and the naturalistic cosmology of the physical sciences on the other, there seemed to be no possibility for an authentic synthesis of subject and object, psyche and world. Freud was both a Romantic and an Enlightenment figure.
VII. England versus France in a World War
The English government's most valuable support was secured by conviction rather than interest. The leading conservative ideologue was Edmund Burke, author of Reflections on the French Revolution (1790). Antithesis of Lockean ideals. His appeals to tradition, sentiment, and chivalry were open to question, but at the same time they served to call into question the values of reason, progress, and efficiency to which his opponents appealed. Burke elevated his discourse to the plane of principle versus Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: international rights of man via revolution; versus William Godwin's Political Justice (1793). Godwin combined theoretical extremism and practical restraint, making him the perfect theorist for intellectuals. He had a great influence among liberals in the 1790s, including the first generation of Romantics like Blake and Wordsworth. He was a philosophical anarchist rather than apolitical revolutionary.
VIII. The poet often held to hold a marginal role in society
After all, what does he contribute to society?
a) power of imagination is liberating: praxis of aesthetics and politics
b) legislator for mankind—independent class of intellectuals who speak for nation above partisanship
c) Romantic Age invented historicism—the mythopoetics of nationalism and its becoming. This nationalism in conjunction with imperialism and racism led to the First World War.
2. Poetry and power. Poets enjoyed a privileged position in society to have the idle time to imagine and think of countercultural alternatives. In that sense, they are reactionary, looking to the verities of antiquity. In the end, they uphold the status quo out of horror of revolutionary violence; their own vested interests in life and property threatened. Hence, they turned out to be either conservative or even reactionary.
3. Marx attacked the philosophers and poets in his The German Ideology. In his eleventh thesis in Theses on Feuerbach, he wrote, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point, however, is to change it."
IX. The Romantics and Language
Locke's work called An Essay Concerning Human Understanding concerns a philosophy of language in which he observes that experience generates knowledge from external, sensible knowledge and internal operations of our mind, perceived and reflected upon by man's ideas. These themes influenced Wordsworth, Blake, and other poets and philosophers of the Romantic persuasion. Locke appeals to the systematic rational analysis of correspondence among terms, ideas, and things—and in this crucial aspect his empiricism is entirely consistent with the values and practices of Cartesian rationalism, to which it is so often compared. For Locke, it would appear that the common human capacity for communicating through language can only be realized in philosophical discourse, and even then it is susceptible to the inevitable limitations of having to depend upon words established by arbitrary imposition.
Locke, then, believed in two things:
1. Words play a constitutive role in ideas; nominalism, that is, the act of naming things, gives ideas reality in the mind itself.
2. Locke's primary concern is the relation between words and ideas, and only secondarily with words and things.
Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, an ideologue of the eighteenth century in pre-Revolutionary France, had an argument derived from Locke. He showed that thinking cannot evolve beyond the elaborations of memory without the creation of language as we know it. His arguments are a brilliant genetic development of the suggestions in Locke's Essay about language's constitutive relation to thinking. The ideologues agreed on two closely connected and potentially antagonistic principles: the invariable subjectivity of language on the one hand, and the impulses toward social communication that correct the inherent limitations of language on the other.
X. The Romantics and Nationalism
Language necessarily reflects its social and material determinations as well as the individual acts of mind of a particular speaker or writer; speech and writing are to an important degree relative productions of a particular language culture, whether local or national. Although these ideas were prominently articulated in Germany by Johann Gottfried Herder and developed later by Wilhelm von Humboldt, they were first raised by Locke. This development particularly affected William Wordsworth.
Wordsworth revised the two central assumptions of empiricist theory. He made a special virtue of the invariable subjectivity of language by assuming that authentic feeling can either transcend or transvalue the arbitrariness of language. At the same time, he offered an account of the social valorization of language by appealing to an idealized rustic community whose thoughts and words are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature, that is, with a Nature that exists beyond or outside language and can therefore legitimize genuine references to it. Wordsworth has two principles.
1. One of these is emotive and expressive, for all good poetry has its origins in the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.
2. The other is social insofar as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, particularly by country folk. Language unifies people in a Gemeinschaft.
Hence, language is natural and imaginative, but language is incompetent to express feelings of the community, in the final analysis. There are phenomena beyond the linguistic capability to express which we can call the ineffable.
Coda: Collective feeling + the country's folk stories and myths = national language community.