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All of this was said before and better by the earliest German Romantics in the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution. It was Germany’s bad luck to fight its way to nationhood in response to the Napoleonic conquests, at a time when its intellectuals largely had abandoned religion in favor of philosophy. The modern notion of self-invention erupts into history through the Cult of Reason. Its prophets were Rousseau and Kant, who were armed by the French Revolution. In Germany, the first salvo against the Cult of Reason came from J. G. Fichte, who argued that Kant’s transcendental reason could only exist in human consciousness, and that this consciousness must arise from nationality. Fichte’s young student Novalis inquired rather how national consciousness might be formed in the first place. Consciousness, he argued long before Heidegger, is time-consciousness, and our sense of ourselves in the present moment was an ecstatic unity of memory and anticipation. But upon what memory might the Germans draw? In his 1799 essay “Christianity or Europe,” Novalis proposed a return to the Christianity of the early Middle Ages, but a Christianity that would ennoble the tales (Märchen) of the past. The disenchanted world which Schiller bemoaned in his poem “The Gods of Greece” would thus become reenchanted (wiederverzaubert) through the fairytale world that underlay medieval Christianity.

That in summary was the Romantic programme, and a very bad idea it turned out to be. Where Schiller and Hölderlin hoped to re-enchant the world with Hellenism, the Romantics succeeded only in dredging up the raw material for a revived paganism. Heinrich Heine warned in 1834 that “if ever the Cross — the taming talisman — were to fracture, then the wildness of the old warriors will clatter to the surface, their mad berserkers’ rage . . . and the old stone gods will raise themselves up out of the forgotten dust and rub the dust of a millennium from their eyes, and Thor with his giant hammer will at last rise up and smash the Gothic domes.” In the hands of Richard Wagner, the Nibelungenlied became an anti-Christian manifesto. In the 19th century Germany brought forth a peerless high culture in literature, music and the sciences, but its national sense of the sacred lost its way in the land of Märchen and was bewitched by the pagan past.

America’s first writer of any stature, Washington Irving, draws a bright line between American and German culture in his allegory “Rip van Winkle”. Irving’s feckless Dutchman wanders into the hills of the Hudson Valley before the American Revolution and finds himself in the middle of a Märchen, one found in a different version in the collection of the Grimm Brothers. He encounters the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s lost crew, and spends the night with drink and ninepins. He awakes and makes his way home unaware that he has slept for 20 years. In the world of “once upon a time” an enchanted traveller may mistake seven days for seven years; what is different in Irving’s story is that Rip wakes up in the modern world of time, in which the Revolution has set a permanent temporal marker. Irving lived in Germany and knew the Romantic sources, but his best-known story is not Romantic, as some critics argue, but rather an ironical reversal of the Romantic view. The American Revolution has disenchanted the world and banished the ghosts of the pre-modern world. Irving’s story thus helps explain the strength and staying power of American culture.
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Pan Cogito
December 10th, 2017
4:12 AM
@Alan Vainman Do not dispense the f-word before trying the perfect fit it makes for you. You no more understand Trump than you do, it appears, the greater mysteries of life. God--and you may translate it as "the Energy of the Universe," the Great Wheel of Karma or whatever--often chooses a broken vessel to carry the most precious nectar. Maybe Spengler would consent to write an essay titled "The music and the men," illuminating for fool vainmen what shits the vessels we know as Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Chopin were and why their music attained the highest degree of luminosity.

Surak
December 5th, 2017
10:12 PM
Anonymous: America is indeed experiencing a wave of fascism, but it is not at the hands of the nationalists. It is at the hands of ANTIFA, BLM, and university students, faculty, and staff beating to a pulp, or attempting to murder, those people who believe that nations are allowed to have borders. What name would you apply to the belief system that commanded the decapitation of a British policeman, and the systematic rape of a continent's women? AnonymousHegelman: Most of the world's sacred systems prohibit murder. Only one religion's scripture commands the murder of all non-believers.

Rick Groves
December 5th, 2017
3:12 PM
In America, enlightenment values used to be held sacred. This was the key differentiating point about America. It was not based on arbitrary lines on a map nor wrongly held ideas about the superiority of one's own tribe. It was an idea of a polity held together by the commitment to liberty and justice. Cultural practices evolve by their nature. That's what they are and what they do. Holding cultures sacred is misguided and destined to create conflict as that inevitable evolution pushes forward. The path forward is not through embracing the arbitrary and superficial and trying to entrench and protect it. It is finding core, deep values that benefit all peoples and following those ideas where they lead us.

AnonymousHegelman
December 5th, 2017
9:12 AM
When people talk of the sacred, they usually mean murder. All of us have a sense of the sacred. We just differ as to what precisely.

Anonymous
December 5th, 2017
4:12 AM
there is no such thing as a new nationalism, as there is no such thing as an illiberal democracy. There is a good, old fascism.

Matt
December 4th, 2017
9:12 PM
Anglo-American identity is built on the individualism of Appalachia and the pragmatism of Colonial Virginia as much as the Utopianism of the Puritans.

Warren Bonesteel
December 4th, 2017
4:12 PM
A great start...but... imposing your own belief system upon a movement comprised of several billion people, from a wide variety of ancient and modern cultures and sub-cultures, who hold a wide variety of religious and spiritual beliefs? That supposition is unfounded. Instead of religion, try 'freedom' and 'personal liberty'. I think you'll find a better fit, with that premise.

Marvin J. Greenberg
December 4th, 2017
8:12 AM
I greatly appreciate the way Goldman takes the usually superficial level of political discussion to a much deeper level, as he does in this essay emphasizing the vital importance of the sacred.

Surak
December 4th, 2017
2:12 AM
Alan Vanneman, America will not go gently into that bad night of sharia. Enjoy Europe, while its women are not yet required to wear burqas!

Alan Vanneman
December 1st, 2017
3:12 PM
"occasionally vulgar"? Don't you mean "constantly vulgar and utterly meretricious"? What fools these mortals be.

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