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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 3: The Sleepwalkers and Modernity



Eternity must be comprised in a single existence, in the totality of a single work of art, and the nearer the work of art comes to the frontiers of totality, the greater its possibility of survival.1

In this chapter, I examine the theme of dystopia and modernization in The Sleepwalkers. My examination argues for a sense of pessimism in the novel that strengthens the previous chapter’s image of Broch as disengaged. As I will argue in Chapters 4 and 5, pessimism followed Broch into exile, but as Broch shifted to a more directly engaged political position optimism became the dominant theme of his mass delusion theory and his political essays. In a sense, during the Austrian First Republic and in The Sleepwalkers, a politically disengaged Broch buried his optimism in a foregrounded pessimism. But, in exile, he presented his political theory as an optimistic solution to the horrors of the contemporary events. In the novel, he shows the decadence of his time and the dangers of political and economic change, but he fails to provide a path forward in the overcoming of these dangers. He, instead, maintains a false hope that the forces of totalitarianism and mass society can be checked by an intellectual revolution in ethical creativity. Broch’s literary work did not exclude him from being critical in his modernism; but, his aesthetic and cognitive solutions to value disintegration maintained a sense of elitism and disconnection in the face of dangerous mass cultural...

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