Reaction and revolution in Thomas Mann

Bishop, P. (2005) Reaction and revolution in Thomas Mann. Oxford German Studies, 34(2), pp. 158-172.

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Abstract

In two passages Friedrich Nietzsche discusses the relation between reaction and revolution. In the second of these texts Nietzsche deploys a structure of argumentation found in the writings of Friedrich Schiller, termed 'binary synthesis'. Similarly, the notions of reaction and revolution form two master concepts in the political thought of Thomas Mann. The phrase 'Conservative Revolution', often associated with Mann, is used in the lecture 'Das Schrifttum als geistiger Raum der Nation' (1927) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, which demonstrates the argumentational structure of both 'Hegelian' and 'binary' synthesis. Understanding Mann's political writings in general and Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (1918) in particular in terms of binary synthesis reveals an essential continuity in his politico-cultural thought. Mann's 1929 paper on Freud is centred on the opposition of irrationalism and the rational, culminating in his definition of psychoanalysis as 'a manifestation of modern irrationalism that unambiguously resists reactionary misuse'. The same binary synthetic structure underlying Goethe's concept of 'highest reason', Schiller's notion of 'second nature', and Mann's conception of reaction and revolution, informs his discussion in Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen of the relation between Geist and Leben, which offers a parallel to Hofmannsthal's position in his 1927 lecture. Mann's political essays reveal his insight into how, out of reaction, there can come revolution, and his cultural task is best described, using an expression from his discussion of Kleist's Amphitryon, as the attempt to create a 'conservatism of the future'.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Bishop, Professor Paul
Authors: Bishop, P.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
College/School:College of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > German
Journal Name:Oxford German Studies
ISSN:0078-7191

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