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PHILOSOPHERS and HISTORIANS (1 of 7)

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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 precedes the Nazis | Gobineau, race and conquest

European Romanticism

In the early 1800s many were rejecting the rationalism and what they thought was the atheism proclaimed by France's revolutionaries. Robespierre had been a believer, a Christian, but no matter. There had been the deism that had arisen with the Enlightenment. Traditional theology had tried to combine reason and revelation but had given 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 a revulsion toward what many saw as the godlessness of the French Revolution. There was in Europe the view that imagination and spirit, soul, or traditional religion and authority, had been ignored.

There was a revolt also against the Enlightenment's acceptance of emotional restraint as 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.

Religious leaders were, however, accepting aspects of science. A belief in rationality accompanied their belief in the free reign of emotion. There were those who extolled rationality while others believed in intuition and emotions – as had Rousseau.

Those artists who were to be labelled romantics believed in spontaneity and emotional intensity. They rejected the buttoned down and artificial and were more likely found in barren rooms rather than in plush drawing rooms, where people were stiff and controlled. Some disliked combing their hair. They yearned for the lofty, to ascend to new heights in experience or spiritual triumph. If they had been living in the twenty-first century and into popular music they might have joined those trying to ascend to peaks of unrestraint in screaming, antics and bang-bang noise.

There was a libertarian aspect to European romanticism – a desire to be free of the tyranny of convention or 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 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 1800s. 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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