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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Post-Kantian romanticism can be construed as a re-
action against the neo-classicism and rationalism of the
eighteenth-century Enlightenment, of the philosophers
and ideologists who dominated the European “Age of
Reason”; or it can be viewed as an expression of a
recurring mood in Western culture from Hellenic civi-
lization to the present. Whenever men assert their
essential unity with nature, strive for an integration
of their intellectual with their emotional capacities,
of consciousness with the unconscious, facts with
values, and seek to identify subject with object, the
term “romantic” has been applied by themselves or
others to those who shared this Weltanschauung.
However, as A. O. Lovejoy wrote, the movement
which began in Germany in the seventeen-nineties is
“the only one which has an indisputable title to be
called Romanticism, since it invented the term for its
own use” (Essays in the History of Ideas [1948], p. 235).

This is the romantic movement, Die Romantik, of
post-Kantian cultural history. A romanticist “school,”
Heine's romantische Schule, could only be found in
Jena and nearby Weimar at the end of the eighteenth
and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. In 1798, in
the second issue of the Athenaeum, Friedrich Schlegel
asserted the supremacy of Die romantische Poesie. With
his brother Wilhelm, with Tieck, Novalis, Fichte, and
Schelling, he established the artistic, literary, and criti-
cal positions best designated Die Romantik. Influenced
by this outlook a broader philosophical program of
romantic idealism was developed at the newly estab-
lished University of Berlin by Fichte, Schleiermacher,
Hegel, and, very briefly, Schelling, though Hegel soon
repudiated romanticism as inadequate.

Goethe, who had been linked to the groups in
Weimar and Jena, also turned from the romantic Sturm
und Drang
mood of his youth. The spirit of “storm
and stress” typified in Goethe's early work was a
prologue to Die Romantik. The poets and artists of
Schlegel's circle responded to Goethe's challenge to
find inspiration in the plenitude of life; for them, as
for him, theory seemed bleak in contrast to the fertility
of life's golden tree. The spiritual atmosphere of this
Romantik corresponded to the romanticism of poets
and novelists (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats,
Byron, Hawthorne, Poe, Whitman, Chateaubriand, de
Vigny, de Musset, and Hugo), of such painters as
Delacroix and Géricault, and of composers (Schubert
and Schumann, Berlioz and Chopin). But Die Romantik,
and post-Kantian romanticism in general, was distinc-
tive in its attachment to emerging German nationalism,
glorification of medieval traditions of folk stories and
fairy tales, its special attention to “the voice of the
heart” often heard in “forest solitude.” To be sure some
of the elements in this combination of themes were
familiar to other romanticisms such as the gothic tra-
dition in English fiction and the worship of nature in
the Lake poets.

Lovejoy's conviction that the romanticism of one
country might have little in common with those of
others echoed the judgment expressed in de Musset's
Lettres de Dupuis et Cotonel in 1836. Lovejoy's thesis
has been attacked by René Wellek in a symposium,
Romanticism Reconsidered, edited by Northrop Frye
in 1963. At the end of his essay, entitled “Romanticism
Re-examined,” Wellek writes that, though while not
“minimizing or ignoring national differences or forget-
ting that great writers have created something unique
and individual,” it is noteworthy “that progress has
been made not only in defining the common features
of Romanticism but in bringing out what is its peculi-
arity or even its essence or nature: that attempt,
apparently doomed to failure and abandoned by our
time, to identify subject and object, to reconcile man
and nature, consciousness and unconsciousness.”

Without denying the validity of Lovejoy's discrim-
inations of various romantic traditions or failing to
recognize the significance of Wellek's so-called “Pan-
Romanticism,” one can agree with Francis B. Randall's
comment in his essay, “Marx the Romantic,” that
“Romanticism, like other important abstract nouns in
the history of culture, is not a term to be defined but
a field to be explored” (Introduction to The Communist
New York, 1964).

To the extent that post-Kantian romanticism was a
reaction, it stood in opposition less to the skepticism
and even to such occasional atheism as existed along-
side the deism of the Enlightenment, as to the “scien-
tific” modernism and rationalistic liberalism on which
the Age of Reason prided itself. The sources of later
romanticism were, as will be apparent, evident in the


earlier eighteenth century and, indeed, before that. It
is significant that three figures such as Pascal, Spinoza,
and Bach, neglected or even repudiated in the religion,
philosophy, and music of the Age of Reason, were
rediscovered by the romanticists and became cultural
heroes of romanticism.

Opposition to the Enlightenment's attempts to apply
the limited outlook of scientific rationalism, first devel-
oped in religion and the arts. Art was manifestly not
created by the mere application of mechanical rules,
as a narrow classical formulation might suggest, nor
could religious values be construed as the products of
a restricted empiricism. Romanticism proclaimed the
primacy of humane interests, of man's emotional and
passionate nature and of the spirit of free imagination
in all creative activity. Such emphases yielded great
achievements in the arts. In the history of ideas the
group led by Friedrich Schlegel sought to develop a
philosophy of romantic idealism by using the values
of human freedom as a key to unlock the innermost
secrets of man's nature and to open up an under-
standing of all nature more adequate than the theories
of eighteenth-century mechanistic science. Kant had
been concerned to overcome doubts raised by Hume
and Holbach, by the skepticism and atheism of the
Enlightenment. The post-Kantians undertook the more
arduous task of creating a new Weltanschauung which
would offset the established world views of Newton
and Locke. Claiming to build on Kant's achievements,
the post-Kantian romanticists drew useful suggestions
for their views and visions from traditions of Platonism
and Neo-Platonism, doctrines of medieval alchemists
such as Paracelsus, mystics, notably Jacob Boehme, and
aspects of the philosophies of Spinoza and Leibniz
largely neglected during the eighteenth century.

Johann Gottfried von Herder, whom J. H. Randall
has called the “first German Romanticist” (The Career
of Philosophy
[1965], II, 103) was a friend of Goethe's
who brought him to Weimar to be court preacher. In
Weimar, Herder became a member of the literary
circle which surrounded Goethe and which included
Schiller and the latter's protégé Hölderlin. The prox-
imity of Weimar to Jena and its group of romanticists
made Herder's influence readily available in both
places. Herder, writes Randall, “hated reason;... he
loved feeling and sentiment and the primitive, folk-
songs and the poetry that coming from the people
expresses the soul of the race.” These ideas Herder had
formulated in his Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte
der Menschheit
(1784-91), while in Gott, einige
(1787), he had developed his views on reli-
gion, largely derived from his reading of Spinoza,
which became a major influence on romanticist philos-
ophy, notably in the metaphysics of Schelling and in
Schleiermacher's theology. As Hölderlin's work built
a bridge from classical literature to romanticist poetry,
so what Herder had absorbed of philosophical tradi-
tions in Kant's Königsberg lecture hall, together with
a vision of the possibility of human greatness derived
from Lessing, reappeared in the speculations of
Schleiermacher and Schelling as Ernst Cassirer has
shown in his Freicheit und Form and Idee und Gestalt.

Another major influence in the development of
romanticist ideas, particularly in the works of Schel-
ling, was Franz Baader whose enthusiasm for the doc-
trines of Jacob Boehme and for those of Herder's friend
Johann Georg Humann was transmitted to Schelling
and into the mainstream of German romanticism. Their
preoccupation with the nature of evil became a part
of romanticist Weltschmerz. Echoes of this melancholy
may be heard in Heinrich von Kleist, Tieck, and
Novalis as well as in Byron and Baudelaire, Leopardi
and Lermontov, and in Schopenhauer's pessimism.

A more generally recognized influence in the devel-
opment of ideas associated with romanticism came
from Rousseau and affected not only those who would
by any standard be recognized by romanticists but also
others who repudiated such designation—Goethe, for
example, Hegel and, later, Nietzsche. As Cassirer has
demonstrated in Rousseau, Kant and Goethe, it was,
in the first instance, the somewhat surprising fact,
surprising in view of obvious temperamental differ-
ences, that Kant was powerfully attracted to Rousseau's
writings, particularly to his psychological observations,
which impressed not only Goethe but also the succes-
sion of post-Kantian romanticist philosophers.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte was, as noted, for a time a
member of the group surrounding Schlegel in Jena. He
formulated an ethic and social philosophy in which the
idea of Freedom was central and sounded the note of
“egoism” which George Santayana found characteristic
of German philosophy. Fichte held the vocation of man
to be the creation of a moral order in which essential
human rights and duties could be fully exercised. True
individuality and personality were to be attained only
in a nation in which man engaged in a constant struggle
towards unattainable goals. In the First Introduction
to his Wissenschaftslehre (1797), Fichte asserts that
action, not mere knowledge, is primary in the fulfill-
ment of human destiny. However Fichte also calls upon
men to turn their attention inward towards their
innermost selves. This self contemplation, intellektuelle
is a prime source of that romanticist irony
which characterized the literature of Die Romantik, an
awareness of the inevitable disparity between aspira-
tion and realization.

The writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher, particu-
larly his Reden über die Religion (1799) and Monologen


(1800), provide a fully articulated romanticist philoso-
phy of religion. Drawing on his own pietistic back-
ground, Schleiermacher devoted himself as scholar,
preacher, and theologian to the formulation of ideas
to which the poets of Die Romantik had given artistic
expression. A sense of infinity and eternality, receptiv-
ity to diversity of cultures and variety of artistic expe-
rience, free individuality in a liberated humanity
providing the fullest development of the potentialities
of personality, such were the recurring themes of
Schleiermacher's works.

Hölderlin, Hegel, and Schelling, schoolmates at the
Tübingen seminary, had joined their friends in dancing
around a “freedom tree” when they received news of
the fall of the Bastille. Hölderlin became the greatest
poet of Die Romantik, but his major contribution to
the history of ideas is to be found in his influence on
Hegel and Schelling. The centrality of Hellenic ideas
in Hegel's social philosophy and the predominant aes-
thetic elements in Schelling's thought give evidence
of Hölderlin's pervasive influence on his friends.
Though the romanticist themes of freedom, self-
determination, and creativity remained central in
Hegel's philosophic system he, like Goethe, repudiated
romantic emotionalism. He developed a logic in which
freedom was subject to law, individuality was attained
in relatedness, and creativity was to be understood in
the context of cultural processes. In Hegel's Faustian
quest for totality he sought a systematic intellectual
comprehensiveness such as Hölderlin and the other
poets of Die Romantik had endeavored to realize in
art. With an imagination equal in its way to that of
the poets, Hegel attempted a rational formulation of
all “Reality” through a “logic of passion” applied to
the data of history. Many of Hegel's followers, includ-
ing so-called left-wing Hegelians, were permeated by
the spirit of romantic idealism; even the materialism
of Karl Marx remains romanticist insofar as Marx sees
man's essence in creative activity which is negated by
misdirected passion linked to greed.

Hegel attempted to escape from the romanticists'
problem of deriving the rich variety and multiplicity
of existence from a primal unity by positing a unity
which was itself a system of particulars. Though Hegel
asserted that he had attained this view by transcending
the philosophical romanticism which he had, in youth-
ful collaboration, shared with Schelling, the latter
claimed throughout his long career that he had antici-
pated Hegel's ideas without repudiating their romanti-
cist implications. Schelling is the most explicitly ro-
mantic of the post-Kantian idealists, “the prince of the
romanticists,” as Josiah Royce called him. Beginning
as a Kantian with marked Fichtean overtones, he drew
consciously on Neo-Platonic and medieval German
traditions, on Bruno and Boehme and Hamann, Spinoza
and Leibniz, as well as on his contemporaries and
collaborators among the poets and artists of Die
He used these influences with imaginative
independence and developed his thought in a series
of systematic doctrines variously designated Natur-
philosophie, Identitätsphilosophie,
and Transcendentale
culminating in the posthumously published
Philosophie der Mythologie und Offenbarung. Under
whatever title, his views encompassed the romanticist
ideas of individuality, freedom and creativity, and an
intense, quasi-religious devotion to the values of per-
sonality. Schelling shared Hegel's interest in logic and
history but gave particular emphasis to a view of Na-
ture as the unity which made intelligible the diversities
encountered in experience, a view which sought to take
account of the evil and irrational elements in concrete
existence. Drawing on Spinoza and developing an
evolutionary conception which had been outlined by
Herder, Schelling more than any other romanticist thus
espoused positions which attracted philosophical poets
and men of letters, notably Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edgar
Allan Poe (Eureka). Supplementing residual overtones
derived from Schopenhauer's influence, Emerson
evoked romanticist elements in the work of Friedrich
Nietzsche. Schelling also anticipated important aspects
of later evolutionary philosophers including Henri
Bergson, Samuel Alexander, a suggestion of Schelling's
influence in American pragmatism. Charles Sanders
Peirce in a letter cited by R. B. Perry in Thought and
Character of William James
(II, 415-16) wrote: “I
consider Schelling as enormous” and “If you were to
call my philosophy Schellingism transformed in the
light of modern physics, I should not take it hard.”
John Dewey recognized in Schelling anticipations of
his own emphasis on the pervasive significance of
artistic experience. That contemporary existentialism
owes much to Schelling is especially evident in the
writings of Martin Heidegger and Paul Tillich.


In addition to works by Cassirer, Lovejoy, and others cited
above, the following books can be consulted. Jacques
Barzun, Classic, Romantic and Modern (New York, 1961),
a revised and enlarged version of the author's Romanticism
and the Modern Ego
(Boston, 1943), a comprehensive study
of romanticist achievement and critical commentary. Rudolf
Haym, Die romantische Schule (Berlin, 1870; rev. ed.
Tübingen, 1960), remains valuable as a presentation of
nineteenth-century views and bibliography. Nicolai Hart-
mann, Die Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus, 2nd ed.
(Berlin, 1960). Part I is devoted to Fichte, Schelling, and
Die Romantik. See also Ricarda Huch, Die Romantik


(Leipzig, 1908); H. A. Korff, Humanismus und Romantik
(Leipzig, 1924); H. G. Schenk, The Mind of the European
(London, 1966), with an introduction by Isaiah
Berlin; Walter Silz, Early German Romanticism, Its Foun-
ders and Heinrich von Kleist
(Cambridge, Mass., 1929);
L. A. Willoughby, The Romantic Movement in Germany,
2nd ed. (New York, 1966).

For English translations of post-Kantian romanticists, see:
J. G. Fichte, The Vocation of Man, ed. Roderick M.
Chisholm (New York, 1956); F. Schleiermacher, Soliloquies,
ed. Horace Leland Friess (Chicago, 1926); F. Schelling, The
Ages of the World,
ed. Frederick de Wolfe Bolman, Jr. (New
York, 1942), and idem, Of Human Freedom, ed. James
Gutman (Chicago, 1936).


[See also Enlightenment; Existentialism; Hegelian...;
Nationalism; Nature; Platonism; Pragmatism; Romanticism;