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Embracing Democracy

Hermann Broch, Politics and Exile, 1918 to 1951

Donald L. Wallace

Hermann Broch wrote two of the most significant novels of German modernism, The Sleepwalkers and The Death of Virgil, which established his importance to German literature. His writings on democracy, mass delusion and internationalism are more obscure. Embracing Democracy examines the central political, social and psychological tenets of Broch’s concept of «total democracy» as an expression of the synthesis of his European intellectual development – his Viennese Bildung – and his new position as an exile from fascism.
This book chronicles Broch’s experiences from the founding of the Austrian First Republic to his exile in the United States (1918 to 1951). The author traces two seemingly contradictory narratives in Broch’s political consciousness. On the one hand, Broch held an intellectual position in his post-exile political theory that was consistent with the philosophy of history, psychology and epistemology of his Viennese milieu. On the other hand, he significantly reconceived the utility of politics for his theory of value construction, while also becoming more involved in political activism. This book provides new perspectives on the work of Hermann Broch beyond his literary œuvre and offers insights into the development of political theory among exiled European intellectuals in the United States.
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Chapter 1: Metropolis of Kitsch: The Viennese Sources of Broch’s Politics



The ultimate meaning of poverty masked by wealth became clearer in Vienna, in Vienna’s spirited swan song, than in any other place or time. A minimum of ethical values was to be masked by a maximum of aesthetic values, which themselves no longer existed. They could no longer exist, because an aesthetic value that does not spring from an ethical foundation is its own opposite – kitsch. And as the metropolis of kitsch, Vienna also became the metropolis of the value vacuum of the epoch.1

For Hermann Broch modernity was the over-abundance of valueless ideologies produced from a ‘disintegration of values’ into ethical relativism. Much of his early work defined the embodiment of such a vacuum in modern culture – from aesthetics to science. In particular, Broch saw Jewish assimilation in the modern world as the quintessential example of such a hypertrophy of particular values over universal ones. My study of Broch examines how he ultimately employed politics to address the problem of modernity; in particular, how he brought a humanistic vision of ethical creativity to bear on the political dangers of the twentieth century. His early writing recognized the weaknesses of modern political ideologies that ignored the importance of humanism, but these ideas were not translated into the active political theorizing until his exile in 1938.

It was not until after the First World War and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire that Broch made cultural criticism his primary mission. ← 27 | 28 → By...

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