Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Historical Romanticism - Romanticist History

While Romanticism is primarily introduced in schools as an artistic style in painting, poetry, and music, its political implications are also significant. What is a Romanticist political view?

One answer can be given in a single name: Rousseau. While Rousseau sought a sense of freedom, he based it on extreme subjectivism, arguing that science and art did more to harm morals than to strengthen them. He saw humans as born with a good nature, but corrupted by society.

To improve both humans and human society, then, Rousseau argued that we should free them from the formative influences of culture and tradition. That meant shielding them from a variety of influences, including disciplines as seemingly disparate as algebra and religion.

For Rousseau, however, those were not as different as they might seem: both were a discipline of the mind, requiring analytical thinking.

Knowing that his program would not be easily implemented, he warned that some people, not understanding what was truly good for them, might resist his reshaping of society. They would, he stated, need to be forced to be free.

Equally paradoxically, while demanding the end to establish institutional religion as it was known, Rousseau created his own religion, and argued that anyone who failed to embrace it should be put to death.

Rousseau’s militant irrationalism was eerily predictive of the massive bloodshed which would constitute the French Revolution.

In such a system, the individual was trammeled by a mass movement which was undertaken, ironically, for the cause of liberating the individual. Rousseau had no patience for economics, and was not interested in giving the kind of freedom which allowed the simple baker or tailor or carpenter to make goods in his workplace and sell them as he saw fit. Rousseau was interested in mass movements, and among Rousseau’s followers, this turned into visions of nations and ethnic groups. Allen Guelzo writes:

The bourgeoisie, therefore, was nothing more than what Goethe called “the gawping public.” What Rousseau hoped to be ruled by was a mysterious “general will” emerging from “the people” as a tribal mass, not by the checks and balances of individuals and their representatives. Nations, as culturally defined organisms rather than assemblies of free and equal citizens, became the object of Romantic ardor.

Rousseau, and the Romanticist politics he engendered, ignore or shun the concepts which had been carefully formulated by a previous generation of thinkers. Locke had crystalized notions like the legitimacy of a government being based upon the consent of the governed, and the idea of majority rule. Rousseau was not interested in a republic in which citizens could freely elect representatives.

Also rejected by Rousseau was any effort to analyze human nature, and from that understanding, to form a notion of how society might be structured, given that humans are what they are. Rousseau seems to reject the notion that “being human” has any clear meaning or definition, and seems rather to think that it can be or mean whatever he wants. Allen Guelzo continues:

Authoritarian notions of society and polities built on Blut und Eisen feed their souls on a Romantic rejection of democratic universalism and natural law. In that sense, Romanticism’s darkest legacy is the one that stained the 20th century with fascism and socialism.

Sadly, those very concepts which Rousseau rejects are the ones which place a limit on the power and authority of government. While Rousseau thought he was building a future with some type of freedom, he was in fact paving the way for tyrannies and dictatorships.