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“They join the greatest boldness in thought to the most obedient character.” So Madame de Stael described German intellectuals at the close of the 18th century, and her view of this schism between the intellectual and the political has stood virtually unchallenged for 200 years. This book lays to rest Madam de Stael’s legacy, the myth of the apolitical German. In a narrative history of ideas that proceeds from his book The Fate of Reason, Frederick Beiser discusses how the French Revolution, with a rationalism and an irrationalism that altered the world, transformed and politicized German philosophy and its central concern: the authority and limits of reason. In Germany, three antithetical political traditions—liberalism, conservatism, and romanticism—developed in response to the cataclysmic events in France.
Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism establishes the genesis and context of these traditions and illuminates their fundamental political ideas. Moving from such well-known figures as Kant, Fichte, Jacobi, Forster, and Moser, Beiser summarizes responses to the French Revolution by the major political thinkers of the period. He investigates the sources for their political theory before the 1790s and assesses the importance of politics for their thought in general. By concentrating on a single formative decade, Beiser aims to reveal the political values and purposes underlying German thought in the late 18th century and ultimately to clarify the place of practical reason in the German philosophical tradition.