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PHILOSOPHERS and HISTORIANS (1 of 6)

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Philosophers and Historians 1801 to 1890

European Romanticism | Hegel, History and Spirit | Arthur Shopenhauer | Kierkegaard and Religious Existentialism | Friedrich Nietzsche | Treitschke, Gobineau and Rightwing History

European Romanticism

In the early 1800s many were rejecting the rationalism and atheism that had been proclaimed by French Revolutionaries. Robespierre had been a believer, a Christian, but no matter. There was also the deism that had arisen with the Enlightenment and the belief in reason. Traditional theology tried to combine reason and revelation but gave precedence to revelation – as the Inquisition had regarding Galileo. Deism gave precedence to reason over revelation, but Deism had been in decline by 1800. There was in Europe after the French Revolution a revulsion toward what many saw as the godlessness of the revolution. There was in Europe the view that imagination and spirit, or soul, or in some cases traditional religion and authority had been ignored.

A part of this was the revolt against the Enlightenment's belief in the ancient Greeks and a revolt against the emotional restraint that had been valued by the ancient Greeks. Emotional freedom was proposed in the place of restraint, the same emotional freedom that allowed one a leap of religious faith – the emotionalism that some Greeks disliked in the worship of Dionysus.

Since the Enlightenment, however, religious leaders were accepting aspects of science, and a belief in rationality accompanied the belief in the free reign of emotion. Many did not see the two as absolutely incompatible. Some continued to extol rationality, while others believed in intuition – as had Rousseau, who had given a boost to romanticism, believing as he had in the emotions of the unlearned rather than in the reason of intellectuals.

Romantics believed in spontaneity and emotional intensity. Romantic artists rejected anything buttoned down or artificial, and they were more likely found in barren garrets than in drawing rooms, where people were stiff and controlled. Some disliked combing their hair. They yearned for the lofty, to ascend to new heights in individualistic human experience and spiritual triumph. If they had been living in the twenty-first century, they would have enjoyed getting high, dressing with indifference to order, and in popular music would have joined those trying to ascend to new peaks of unrestraint in screaming, antics, bang-bang or boom-boom. 

There was a libertarian aspect to European romanticism – a desire to be free of the tyranny of convention, or the impositions of opposing political philosophies. In Britain were those who accepted those parts of the Enlightenment that suited them while rejecting the egalitarianism and empiricism of people like Jeremy Bentham and Stuart Mill. A few championed a philosophy that claimed reality to be essentially idea rather than materiality.

On the side of romanticism was William Wordsworth (1770-1850), a major English poet who wrote of our souls seeing that immortal sea that brought us hither and hearing the mighty waters rolling evermore.

There was also Wordsworth's friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) – Britain's best known conservative early in the century. Coleridge had been friendly toward revolutionists during his younger days, but he had had a change of mind by the beginning of the century. In 1801 he began sinking into an opium habit. He passed through Pantheism (God is everywhere and everything) but he recovered his Christian faith in time to appeal to conservatives. He denounced Pantheism as atheism (if God is everything than there is nothing distinct that can be called God). He embraced philosophical idealism – Plato's view of reality as basically mind or idea. And, as libertarians do, Coleridge championed free speech.

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