Towards Romanticism
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30

[from:] “Czas”, 12 November 1928


It is often claimed that there is no definition of romanticism, but it is not generally recognised that such a definition would be impossible since if romanticism is the opposite of rationalism, and a definition must necessarily be a rational one, therefore an attempt to define romanticism is as likely to succeed as an attempt to make a blind man experience colours when these are rationally described to him. This is why romanticism contrasts reason with intuition; this is why Husserl[1] abolished the existing logic in order to get directly at ideas and this is why Spann[2] is trying to construct a separate logic for romanticism (in my opinion – without any success so far) in his Kategorienlehre.

If feeling is the essence of romanticism, then any external expression of this experience that we call feeling is merely a trace, a signal of the inner process. Our reason grabs these traces and arranges them, and as a consequence it also transforms and changes them. It does so by its own means and thus cannot reproduce the very essence of the experience. This is why one cannot “learn” beauty or philosophy (if we see the essence of philosophy in creativity). One can only experience them. No lessons in aesthetics will make a man who has no taste (as it is often said) learn to experience beauty – he can only find out what others find beautiful.

Thus a man creates two worlds for himself: one with reason, and another with intuition. In the former, we cannot transcend the boundaries of time and space. It is also a cold and deficient world, built on what is perceptible and on what can be ordered according to the accepted laws of logic. Thus it is a variable world, since it has no permanent, absolute point of reference. This world necessarily leads to atheism, and in terms of morality – to utilitarianism.

The second world, one of feeling, is not bound by the conditions of time and space. It transcends them, and not being limited to the perceptible in its origins, it is capable of fulfilling a man’s longings and give him the means to overcome that which fills his soul with fear.

We call this world a romantic one, extracting from the notion of romanticism its essence, which makes it the opposite of rationalism.

A man has both these worlds inside of him. The only question is whether they are in harmony with each other or whether one dominates over the other. History teaches us about periods in which one or the other type of person prevailed, but it also teaches us about periods of harmony as well as that when just one direction wields hegemony, this leads to a reaction from the other one and to an attempt to arrive at a certain balance.

If we analyse today’s European culture according to these criteria, we must conclude that the period until the Great War was one of rationalism’s hegemony. The question that preoccupies deeper minds is whether the symptoms that have become evident after the Great War suggest that Europe has recognised that rationalism will not be able to satisfy the mankind’s desires and that people are looking for another source of relief as a result. If we find that rationalism is collapsing, in the light of the above considerations this should mean a stronger move in the direction we refer to as romantic.

We believe that the crisis in European culture stems precisely from the hegemony of rationalism. In the political domain, rationalism has brought about the system referred to as democracy, which fragments the society on the one hand and makes it function more like a machine on the other hand. The first development is manifested in the disappearance of those institutions that emerged and developed organically. The second one is manifested in the mechanical principle of the majority, on which this kind of democracy is based. In the world of politics, the result is the inability of the bodies constructed by this kind of democracy to govern the state. If we consider the parliamentary system to be a fundamental feature of such political frameworks, there is no doubt that this system requires reform on all levels if it is to be able to carry the burden of government. Therefore, there is a common belief that if Europe is to avoid rule by Cossacks (in the sense of absolute rule), rationalism should abdicate its throne and seek reconciliation with the world that we refer to as the romantic one. However, this reconciliation must be sincere, i.e. pure idealism flowing from feelings and from intuition rather than one artificially developed by its rationalist opponent should come to the fore. Let us say at once that this reconciliation can only be achieved through religion.

We would like to illustrate the general observations presented above with examples. Bolshevism is the ultimate expression of rationalism. In his remarkable Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit, Egon Friedell[3] writes that the Bolsheviks have used a measure hitherto unknown in the history of mankind, i.e. they have taken away the soul of the Russian people. In its origins, fascism was the opposite of Bolshevism. It grew out of no doctrine and it wanted to abolish all doctrines. It was reduced to youth, blood and instinct. However, you cannot base your rule on these things only. Thus Mussolini[4] is rationalising his original romanticism, and the contemporaries watch closely how far he will go in this rationalisation – whether fascism, which flows from different sources, does not end up soulless just like Bolshevism. We are being reassured that what we see today is a transitional period.

We do not want to present a long list of examples here. An analysis of the situation in Poland would surely result in the conclusion that we are also undergoing a crisis. Having regained independence, we found ourselves in a particularly difficult position. We had no direct tradition, since that had been interrupted by the partitions. Therefore we decided to use models from abroad without realising that the states from which these were taken are in crisis right now and are looking for new ways and measures themselves. After ten years, we can see that there are things that need to be fixed, supplemented or even reversed. The universal call for the reform of the state system reflects the belief that our country is in crisis. If those who would be able to introduce such a reform fail to do so, they will disappoint those who have pinned their hopes on them, and social anxiety will further increase. We do not suppose that there will be no reform at all. The issue is that reformers must get at the source of evil rather than content themselves with removing superficial symptoms of the disease; they must reach to the very bottom and recognise that the issue at stake is not the functioning of one political body or another but the culture of the nation as such.

I am assuming here that history is not shaped by economic relations but rather by the spirit. The culture of the nation encompasses everything in which its soul manifests itself. Its most powerful expressions are science, art and religion. In science, no progress is possible without theory, and this is based on an idea born out of intuition. A method alone will create nothing, since its task is only to verify, determine or reject. The progress of science manifests itself as a series of ideas that become permanent or are replaced by new ones, which are again tested by experience. As the incessant work of the spirit and its creativity, art is removed the furthest from rationalism. However, if it were completely liberated from reason, it would be reduced to a scream or a bunch of blots; on the other hand, if it were completely subordinated to reason, it would become merely an artistic industry. And finally, let no one say that the Catholic Church has rationalised the teachings of Christ. Those who have no profound understanding of the Church’s teaching on grace should refrain from such statements.

So what is at issue? The point is to grasp that a culture that defends itself from all that is not rational is an impoverished one. Today’s crisis demonstrates that such a culture is harmful as well. The issue is to broaden our horizons and to allow irrational motives to come to the fore. The task of setting the nation’s culture on this broader and bright road should be undertaken by its elites: scholars, artists and the Church. Those who believe in progress, development and the possibility of self-improvement will respect rationalism, but will still expect romanticism (as it is outlined here) to bring a better future.


[1] Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) – German mathematician and philosopher, founder of phenomenology, lecturer at the universities of Halle (1887–1901), Göttingen (1901–1916) and Freiburg am Breisgau (1916–1928); he wrote, inter alia, Logische Untersuchungen (1900–1901) and Ideen zu einer reinen Phenomenologie und phenomenologischen Philosophie (1913).

[2] Othmar Spann (1878–1950) – Austrian philosopher, sociologist and economist, critic of both Marxism and liberalism, a creator of the theory of a decentralised corporate state, which exerted some influence on the Austrian right in the 1930s. From the late 1920s, he was member of the Austrian NSDAP; after the Anschluss, he was removed from university and imprisoned in Dachau; he wrote, inter alia, Der wahre Staat (1921), Gesellschaftsphilosophie (1932) and Naturphilosophie (1937).

[3] Egon Friedell (1878–1938) – Austrian philosopher, historian, journalist, theatre critic, actor, artistic director of the Viennese Fledermaus cabaret, contributor to, inter alia, the Schaubühne, Fackel, Neues Wiener Journal and Stunde magazines; he committed suicide as the Nazis were about to arrest him; he wrote, inter alia, Die Judastragödie (1920) and Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit (1927–1931).

[4] Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) – Italian politician, Prime Minister, founder and leader of the fascist movement. Initially, he held socialist views (from 1912 to 1914, he was editor-in-chief of the left-wing Avanti! newspaper). In 1922, after the so-called March on Rome, he was nominated Prime Minister of Italy and the process of accumulation of power by the Fascists began. He launched large investments in infrastructure, built a corporatist political system, suppressed the opposition and tried to strengthen Italy’s international position (e.g. by starting a war in Abyssinia). During World War II, he was an ally of the Third Reich. He was put before a firing squad by Italian Communist guerrillas.

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